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Many organisms use environmental cues to regulate reproductive function in order to time reproduction to coincide with favorable environmental conditions. Whereas we understand much about how environmental cues are used to time reproduction, we know relatively little about variation among individuals in responsiveness to environmental cues. However, this variation among individuals may represent a crucial component of a population's capacity to respond to changing environmental conditions. In this study, we quantify variation among individuals in photoperiod responsiveness of the avian reproductive system and investigate three potential underlying sources of this variation in environmental cue responsiveness. Specifically, we tested whether age‐related photoperiodic experience, strength of the photoperiodic cue (day length), and degree of flexibility in breeding schedule influenced the degree of variation observed in experimental studies of seven species of cardueline finches. Overall, we found a high degree of variation among individuals in photoperiod response, and this was influenced by experimental photoperiod and breeding schedule. As experimental photoperiod became longer, the degree of variation declined. Opportunistic breeders showed greater variation in response compared with more seasonal breeders. We found no effect of age‐related photoperiodic experience in one species for which we could examine this factor. The results of this study highlight the extent to which individuals can vary in their response to environmental cues and point to both species ecology and characteristics of the cue as important influences on the degree of this variation.
Watts, H. E., MacDougall-Shackleton, S. A., & Hahn, T. P. 2015. Variation among individuals in photoperiod responses: Effects of breeding schedule, photoperiod, and age-related photoperiodic experience in birds. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology. 323: 368-374.