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Age-related environmental sensitivity and weather mediated nestling mortality in white storks Ciconia ciconia

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We studied environmental sensitivity and mortality related to weather inclemency in white stork nestlings Ciconia ciconia in their southern European boundary (Doñana, SW Spain). The study of homeothermy acquisition and fault bars (i.e. a measure of stress on feathers) revealed that stork nestlings were specially sensitive to environmental conditions occurring before 20 d of age. Accordingly, most of nestling mortality concentrated during this sensitive period: 91% of deaths corresponded to nestlings younger than 20 d, 73% concentrating on nestlings up to 10 d-old. Nestling mortality and total breeding failure were highly variable among years, being especially high when rainy periods coincided with the early live of nestlings (between 1 April and 15 May). Maximum temperatures had a positive correlation with breeding success and nestling survival but this effect disappeared when controlling for rainfall. Our results are in agreement with previous studies conducted in other white stork populations in other latitudes. We suggest that this could be the result of a low homeothermy capacity of young nestlings jointly with an early breeding phenology that expose white storks to rain, but not to high temperatures. In the context of global climate change we suggest that the current decrease on spring rainfall could increase nestling survival while punctual rainy springs could have a negative effect on the reproduction of white storks.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2004

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