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A positive relationship between spring temperature and productivity in 20 songbird species in the boreal zone


Anthropogenic climate warming has already affected the population dynamics of numerous species and is predicted to do so also in the future. To predict the effects of climate change, it is important to know whether productivity is linked to temperature, and whether species’ traits affect responses to climate change. To address these objectives, we analysed monitoring data from the Finnish constant effort site ringing scheme collected in 1987–2013 for 20 common songbird species together with climatic data. Warm spring temperature had a positive linear relationship with productivity across the community of 20 species independent of species’ traits (realized thermal niche or migration behaviour), suggesting that even the warmest spring temperatures remained below the thermal optimum for reproduction, possibly due to our boreal study area being closer to the cold edge of all study species’ distributions. The result also suggests a lack of mismatch between the timing of breeding and peak availability of invertebrate food of the study species. Productivity was positively related to annual growth rates in long-distance migrants, but not in short-distance migrants. Across the 27-year study period, temporal trends in productivity were mostly absent. The population sizes of species with colder thermal niches had decreasing trends, which were not related to temperature responses or temporal trends in productivity. The positive connection between spring temperature and productivity suggests that climate warming has potential to increase the productivity in bird species in the boreal zone, at least in the short term.

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We thank David N. Koons, Robert A. Robinson, and an anonymous referee for their comments and suggestions which improved the manuscript significantly. We also thank Andrea Santangeli for helping with the STI calculations. KM received funding from Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation and Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth Foundation. AL has received funding from the Academy of Finland (Grant number 275606). Special thanks to all volunteers participating the CES and staff from the Finnish Museum of Natural History who helped in either collecting or maintaining data.

Author information

KM, MP, AV and AL originally formulated the idea, KM and MP performed the statistical analyses, KM, MP, AV and AL wrote the manuscript

Correspondence to Kalle Meller.

Additional information

Communicated by David N. Koons.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Fig. S1. Map showing the locations of the Finnish CES sites used in the study. (PDF 163 kb)

Fig. S2 The interannual variation in a) productivity and b) population size across the study species. The black lines in the boxplots show the median of annual productivity, inside the boxes lies 50 % of the observations, and whiskers show the range of the observations. Productivities and population sizes of the species were first detrended and then centered and scaled to have a mean of zero and standard deviation of one. (PDF 25 kb)

Fig. S3. The most parsimonious models for trends in productivity (black line) and population size (red line) during the study period selected from the analysis shown in Table S3. For the annual values shown in dots, the first year (1987) was set to value of 0.5 for productivity and 1 for population size, and other values are relative to these values. (PDF 42 kb)

Fig. S4. Spring temperatures during the study period (1987–2013). (PDF 20 kb)

Fig. S5. The species-specific effects of spring temperature on productivity with 95 % confidence intervals. Significant slopes (p < 0.05) are marked with a solid line and others (p > 0.05) with a dashed line. The effects of population size were removed and both variables were scaled to have mean of zero and standard deviation of one. (PDF 55 kb)

Fig. S6. The species-specific effects of productivity on the population growth rate with 95 % confidence intervals. Significant slopes (p < 0.05) are marked with a solid line and others (p > 0.05) with a dashed line. The effects of population size were removed and both variables were scaled to have mean of zero and standard deviation of one. (PDF 8 kb)

Supplementary material 7 (PDF 27 kb)

Supplementary material 8 (PDF 4 kb)

Supplementary material 9 (PDF 19 kb)

Supplementary material 10 (PDF 19 kb)

Supplementary material 11 (PDF 49 kb)

Supplementary material 12 (PDF 33 kb)

Supplementary material 13 (PDF 51 kb)

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Meller, K., Piha, M., Vähätalo, A.V. et al. A positive relationship between spring temperature and productivity in 20 songbird species in the boreal zone. Oecologia 186, 883–893 (2018).

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  • Birth rate
  • Breeding success
  • Global warming
  • Reproductive success
  • Species trait
  • Climatic niche