Complex interactions among temporal variables affect the plasticity of clutch size in a multi-brooded bird

David F. Westneat, Ian R.K. Stewart, Margret I. Hatch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Phenotypic plasticity is a widespread phenomenon and may have important influences on evolutionary processes. Multidimensional plasticity, in which multiple environmental variables affect a phenotype, is especially interesting if there are interactions among these variables. We used a long-term data set from House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), a multi-brooded passerine bird, to test several predictions from life-history theory regarding the shape of optimal reaction norms for clutch size. The best-fit model for variation in clutch size included three temporal variables (the order of attempt within a season, the date of those attempts, and the age of the female). Clutch size was also sensitive to the quadratics of date and female age, both of which had negative coefficients. Finally, we found that the relationship between date and clutch size became more negative as attempt order increased. These results suggest that female sparrows have a multidimensional reaction norm for clutch size that matches predictions of life-history theory but also implicates more complexity than can be captured by any single model. Analysis of the sources of variation in reaction norm height and slope was complicated by the additional environmental dimensions. We found significant individual variation in mean clutch size in all analyses, indicating that individuals differed in the height of their clutch size reaction norm. By contrast, we found no evidence of significant individual heterogeneity in the slopes of several dimensions. We assess the possible mechanisms producing this reaction norm and discuss their implications for understanding complex plasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1162-1174
Number of pages13
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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