The importance of food quantity and quality for reproductive performance in alpine water pipits (Anthus spinoletta)

Paul A. Brodmann, Heinz Ulrich Reyer, Kurt Bollmann, Alex R. Schläpfer, Claudia Rauter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

31 Scopus citations


Studies relating reproduction to food availability are usually restricted to food quantity, but ignore food quality and the effects of habitat structure on obtaining the food. This is particularly true for insectivorous birds. In this study we relate measures of reproductive success, time of reproduction and nestling size of water pipits (Anthus spinoletta) to biomass, taxonomic composition and nutritional content of available food, and to vegetation structure and distance to feeding sites. Clutch size was positively correlated with the proportion of grass at the feeding sites, which facilitates foraging. This suggests that water pipits adapt their clutch size to environmental conditions. Also, pipits started breeding earlier and produced more fledglings when abundant food and a large proportion of grass were available, probably because these conditions allow the birds to gain more energy in less time. The number of fledglings was positively correlated with the energy content of available food. No significant relationships were found between feeding conditions and nestling size or the time that nestlings took to fledge. This suggests that water pipits do not invest more in individual nestlings when food conditions are favourable but rather start breeding earlier and produce more young. Taxonomic composition and nutritional content of prey were not correlated with any of the reproductive parameters, indicating that profitability rather than quality of food affects reproductive success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-208
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2 1997



  • Foraging
  • Habitat structure
  • Nutrients
  • Reproductive success
  • Water pipits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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