Incubation temperature impacts nestling growth and survival in an open-cup nesting passerine

Emilie A. Ospina, Loren Merrill, Thomas J. Benson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For oviparous species such as birds, conditions experienced while in the egg can have long-lasting effects on the individual. The impact of subtle changes in incubation temperature on nestling development, however, remains poorly understood, especially for open-cup nesting species with altricial young. To investigate how incubation temperature affects nestling development and survival in such species, we artificially incubated American robin (Turdus migratorius) eggs at 36.1°C (“Low” treatment) and 37.8°C (“High” treatment). Chicks were fostered to same-age nests upon hatching, and we measured mass, tarsus, and wing length of experimental nestlings and one randomly selected, naturally incubated (“Natural”), foster nest-mate on days 7 and 10 posthatch. We found significant effects of incubation temperature on incubation duration, growth, and survival, in which experimentally incubated nestlings had shorter incubation periods (10.22, 11.50, and 11.95 days for High, Low, and Natural eggs, respectively), and nestlings from the Low treatment were smaller and had reduced survival compared to High and Natural nestlings. These results highlight the importance of incubation conditions during embryonic development for incubation duration, somatic development, and survival. Moreover, these findings indicate that differences in incubation temperature within the natural range of variation can have important carryover effects on growth and survival in species with altricial young.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3270-3279
Number of pages10
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • carry-over effects
  • early-life experiences
  • embryonic development
  • incubation
  • temperature manipulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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