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Incubation temperature as a constraint on clutch size evolution

Cite this dataset

Hope, Sydney et al. (2021). Incubation temperature as a constraint on clutch size evolution [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Elucidating factors that limit the number of offspring produced is fundamental to understanding life-history evolution. Here, we examine the hypothesis that parental ability to maintain an optimal physical developmental environment for all offspring constrains clutch size via effects on offspring quality.

2. Experimental laboratory studies of birds have shown that a <1°C difference in average incubation temperature has diverse effects on fitness-related post-hatching offspring phenotypes. Thus, the inability of parents to maintain optimal incubation temperatures could constrain clutch sizes.

3. A fundamental question that has not been sufficiently addressed is whether larger clutch sizes lead to within nest variation in egg temperature that is large enough to produce offspring with different phenotypes within a brood. This could lead to differential survival among offspring, and could create a tradeoff between offspring number and quality.

4. We manipulated clutch size in nests of free-living wood ducks and measured incubation temperature among and within clutches using multiple temperature loggers.

5. As clutch size increased, average incubation temperatures were lower and more variable, and eggs took longer to hatch. Notably, the range in average incubation temperature among eggs within nests increased with clutch size and exceeded 1°C in large clutches.

6. Clutch size did not affect hatch success. In conjunction with our companion laboratory studies that used artificial incubation to document the effects of temperature variation on fitness-related traits in this species, our work suggests that suboptimal incubation temperatures could be a factor that limits clutch size through diminishing returns on post-hatch offspring quality.


The methods used to collect this dataset and data processing information can be found in the manuscript. 

Usage notes

1. Clutch size includes the artificial egg temperature loggers
2. The average incubation temperature was calculated as the average of the average temperatures of the six mobile loggers 
3. The temperature fluctuation was the average of the standard deviations in temperature of the six mobile loggers 
4. The range in temperature among eggs was the range of the average temperatures (highest – lowest) of the six mobile loggers
5. The standard deviation in temperature among eggs within nests was calculated at the standard deviation among the average temperatures of the six mobile loggers
6. The number of eggs dumped after incubation started were new eggs there were found in the nest after incubation had started. This indicated that they were laid by a brod parasite. Thus, they were not included in the calculation of hatch success


Virginia Tech

National Science Foundation, Award: 478969

United States Department of Energy, Award: DE-FC09-07SR22506