Publisher: Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Incubation was for a long time considered to be a period of decreased activity and low cost for parents. It was therefore ignored as a potential factor affecting life-history trade-offs in birds. Lately this view has started to change, and studies now show that there might be considerable costs connected to incubation. We experimentally reduced the nest temperature during incubation in blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus, thus increasing the energetic cost of incubation, to test the importance of incubation as a component of reproductive costs and for nestling quality. While most other studies use brood size manipulation to manipulate reproductive costs, we were able to separate treatment effects acting during the incubation period from those acting on later reproductive performance by applying a cross-foster design. We were also able to isolate the effects of decreased incubation temperature on the nestlings from treatment effects acting on incubating females. We found no experimental effect on the length of the incubation period or on hatching success. The lower temperature during incubation, however, caused lower growth rates in nestlings and reduced chick rearing capacity in adults. We conclude that incubation is a costly period, with the potential to affect both the trade-off between current and future reproduction and the one between parental effort and offspring quality within the current breeding attempt.