Calcium effects on life-history traits in a wild population of the great tit (Parus major): analysis of long-term data at several spatial scales.
Wilkin TA., Gosler AG., Garant D., Reynolds SJ., Sheldon BC.
Calcium is an essential micronutrient for birds during egg formation and for skeletal development in nestlings. Habitat level studies suggest that birds breeding in low-calcium areas may be limited in the size or number of eggs they lay and in the quality of their nestlings. However, as birds forage non-randomly and may travel considerable distances to acquire calcium, describing different breeding environments in terms of their calcium availability is problematic. Here we explore the spatial relationships between 300-fold variation in soil calcium and the life-history traits of ca. 6,000 pairs of great tits breeding in a single continuous woodland over 41 years. Controlling for other habitat differences, we found strong positive associations between soil calcium, clutch size and recruitment at spatial scales of over 300 m from each nestbox, suggesting that females may have been travelling inter-territorially to acquire calcium during egg formation. Soil calcium near each nestbox (mean distance = 58 m) was a strong positive predictor of mean fledgling mass, suggesting that local calcium was more important during nestling stages. We found no effect of soil calcium on lay-date or egg mass. This study is the first to provide evidence that small woodland passerines are limited by calcium availability at several different spatial scales. However, experimental work is necessary to test the causality of these spatial patterns.