Due to the 'double-clutch' mating system found in the arctic-breeding Little Stint Calidris minuta, each parent cafes for a clutch and brood alone. The resulting constraint on feeding time, combined with the cold climate and a small body size, may cause energetic bottlenecks. Based on the notion that mass stores in birds serve as an 'insurance' for transient periods of negative energy balance, but entail certain costs as well, body mass may vary in relation to climatic conditions and stage of the breeding cycle. We studied body mass in Little Stints in relation to breeding stage and geographical location, during 17 expeditions to 12 sites in the Eurasian Arctic, ranging from north Norway to north-east Taimyr. Body mass was higher during incubation than during chick-rearing. Structural size, as estimated by wing length, increased with latitude. This was probably caused by relatively more females (the larger sex) incubating further north, possibly after leaving a first clutch to be incubated by a male further south. Before and after correction for structural size, body mass was strongly related to latitude during both incubation and chick-rearing. In analogy to a similar geographical pattern in overwintering shorebirds, we interpret the large energy stores of breeding Little Stints as an insurance against periods of cold weather which are a regular feature of arctic summers. Climate data showed that the risk of encountering cold spells lasting several days increases with latitude over the species' breeding range, and is larger in June than in July. Maintaining these stores is therefore less necessary at southern sites and during the chick-rearing period than in the incubation period. When guarding chicks, feeding time is less constrained than during incubation, temperatures tend to be higher than in the incubation period, reducing energy expenditure, and the availability of insect prey reaches a seasonal maximum. However, the alternative interpretation that the chick-tending period is more energetically stressful than the incubation period, resulting in a negative energy balance for the parent, could not be rejected on the present evidence.
|Publication status||Published - 2002|