As our understanding of climate change has increased, so has our awareness of the impacts of these changes on biotic systems. Climate models are nearly unanimous in their predictions for increased drought frequency in southwestern North America, and delays in nest initiation due to drought may influence nesting success and productivity for many Sonoran Desert bird species. In southeastern California and western Arizona in 2004–2009, we found negative correlations for 13 of 13 species between nest initiation date and rainfall accumulation during the preceding 4-month winter rainy season. Nesting was delayed more than 3 weeks for some species during extreme droughts in 2006 and 2007. During 2004–2009, we found a significant negative effect of nest initiation date on nest survival probability (β̂ = −0.031 ± 0.005 SE, P < 0.001) for the four species of greatest sample size. To investigate the role of nesting delay in nesting success and productivity, in 2010 we conducted a manipulative experiment with Black-tailed Gnatcatchers (Polioptila melanura; BTGN) and Verdins (Auriparus flaviceps; VERD). Following a wet winter, we delayed clutch initiation dates for treatment pairs to match first-egg dates that we observed during droughts in 2006 and 2007. Nest initiation date had a significant negative effect on nest survival of both species (BTGN: β̂ = −1.18 ± 0.27 SE, P < 0.001; VERD: β̂ = −2.33 ± 0.51 SE, P = 0.003). Treatment pairs were unable to overcome the lost period of high productivity in March and early April, and had lower productivity than control pairs over the entire breeding season. As nest predation and Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) parasitism were the most common causes of nest failure, we conclude that the impacts of climate change–caused drought on annual reproductive output in the Sonoran Desert will be further compounded by parasitism and predation for Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and by predation for Verdins.
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Vol. 132 • No. 1