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Data from: Plasticity in incubation behavior and shading by king rails (Rallus elegans) in response to temperature

Cite this dataset

Clauser, Amanda J.; McRae, Susan B. (2016). Data from: Plasticity in incubation behavior and shading by king rails (Rallus elegans) in response to temperature [Dataset]. Dryad.


King rails experience a wide range of temperatures during the course of the breeding season throughout their rapidly contracting geographic range. Incubating parent birds are adapted to keep their eggs within a temperature range appropriate for embryo development, but king rail clutches are at risk of exceeding lethal temperatures in the latter half of the nesting season. We investigated whether behavioral plasticity during incubation enables parents to maintain clutch temperature within tolerable limits for embryo development. Video revealed that king rail parents interrupted incubation to stand above and shade their eggs. We tested the hypothesis that the onset of shading was a direct response to ambient temperature (adaptive plasticity). We monitored clutch temperature directly by experimentally adding into clutches a model egg embedded with a programmable iButton. We measured ambient temperature at the nest site simultaneously. Parents spent proportionately more time shading and less time incubating their eggs at higher ambient temperatures. Shading may primarily function in cooling the parent. The frequency and duration of shading bouts were significantly greater at higher ambient temperatures. Parents also took more frequent but shorter recesses in hotter conditions. Diurnal recesses exposed eggs to direct sunlight, and the highest clutch temperatures were recorded under these conditions. Complete hatching failure in at least one nest was attributable to high clutch temperature for an extended period. Because mean ambient temperature increases throughout the breeding season, we investigated seasonal patterns in onset of incubation and its effect on hatching rate. Later in the season, parents tended to initiate incubation earlier, and hatching asynchrony increased significantly. Together these results suggest that breeding king rails may be constrained in their ability to cope with sustained high temperatures should seasonal averages continue to rise as predicted.

Usage notes


eastern United States
North Carolina
Atlantic coast
Currituck County