Environmental effects on variation and covariation in reproductive traits of Western Bluebirds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Environmental conditions can influence the expression and correlations of phenotypic traits. I studied phenotypic plasticity in reproductive traits of Western Bluebirds breeding in northern Arizona. Data collected over 4 years on two contrasting habitats identified significant spatial and temporal variation in bluebird reproduction. Clutch size was similar over different environmental conditions whereas timing of clutch initiation, percent fledging success, and frequency of second nest attempts were flexible. Correlations between traits varied widely-often changing sign-among samples from different years or habitats. Correlations of traits with reproductive success were also dependent on environmental conditions. Variation in traits reflected behavioral responses by nesting adults to differences in time for breeding and feeding conditions. Density of trees differed between habitats and had opposing effects on these environmental variables; breeding seasons were generally longer, but feeding rates to nestlings were lower on the more open habitat. Late Spring snows delayed reproduction and increased the importance of limited time for breeding; feeding conditions were more influential following a dry Spring. This and other studies illustrate that data on phenotypic plasticity are important when evaluating the ecological and evolutionary forces underlying life histories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-201
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • Birds
  • Environment
  • Life histories
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Reproduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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