The end of primary moult as an indicator of global warming effects in the Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa, a medium sized, sedentary species
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Global warming affects ecosystem services, communities and populations, influencing the physiology, behaviour or environment of living beings, and hence impacts its survival or breeding. Identifying species susceptibility to warming is relevant in assessing risks to animal populations and ecological processes. The progressive increase in ambient temperature as a result of global warming might have an effect on the timing of primary moult. This could affect a bird’s annual cycle, influencing reproductive success and population dynamics. We describe a method to examine the potential effects of global warming on the primary moult process in a sedentary population of Red-legged Partridges (Alectoris rufa). We organised the factors that might influence the timing of moult end into a network and distinguished between environmental and intrinsic factors. We sorted the factors according to their contribution to quantitative moult models and constructed a diagrammatic scheme showing their interactions and effect on the end of primary moult over the annual cycle. In Red-legged Partridges, the timing of the end of moult varies according to age-sex class. We found no timing differences by age, but found significant timing differences by adult sex. More females overlap their moult with juveniles than males because female parental effort is higher, more females incubate and brood chicks. The timing of the end of moult varies by year due to conspecific interactions that change according to influences of the weather, habitat, and social and flock conditions. Parent birds synchronize their primary moult with the chick's growth, degree of cover and food resources. From the time of hatching to the following year, the date (day-length), social factors (conspecific interactions), and weather (resources) affect the timing of moult and the birds’ annual cycle. Global warming affects the timing of the end of moult and that of the annual cycle. If the extent of the breeding period is shortened, there could be a negative effect on population outcomes. Middle size prey species are key in trophic chains. Our results suggest that the timing of the end of moult could be used as a proxy measure of warming impacts on wildlife and ecosystems and also as a tool for the management of game birds.