The American Ornithological Society (AOS) is pleased to present the 2023 Wesley Lanyon Award to Dr. Alex Sutton, a lecturer in global change ecology at Bangor University in Wales. Dr. Sutton’s paper, “The biotic and abiotic drivers of timing of breeding and the consequences of breeding early in a changing world,” was co-authored with Nikole E. Freeman and published in June 2023 in Ornithology. The AOS Wesley Lanyon Award recognizes the early-career ornithologist who authors the best review paper on avian science in either Ornithology or Ornithological Applications. To be considered for the award, papers must fit the journal’s mission and scope and be a novel, integrative review that advances ornithology. This award honors Wesley “Bud” Lanyon, the 37th President of the American Ornithologists’ Union.
The award review committee comprises the two editors-in-chief and the four senior editors of Ornithology and Ornithological Applications who solicited abstracts in 2021 for this year’s award. Dr. Sutton has been invited to organize a symposium on his winning review topic at the 2024 AOS annual meeting scheduled for the fall of 2024 in Estes Park, Colorado.
Dr. Sutton is broadly interested in understanding how individual responses to climate change scale up to influence population and community dynamics. Dr. Sutton completed his Ph.D. at the University of Guelph (2020) before completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Kansas State University (2022). He was a recipient of the James L. Baillie Student Research Award (Society of Canadian Ornithologists and Birds Canada) and two W. Garfield Weston Foundation Graduate Fellowships for Northern Conservation (Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada), which supported his research on the drivers of population dynamics of a resident boreal bird, the Canada Jay. His ongoing research uses a diversity of study systems to understand the drivers of differential responses to climate change and the consequences of changing weather on all aspects of avian biology. Dr. Sutton was elected in 2022 as an AOS Elective Member, and he had previously won an AOS student membership award and a student travel award.
The decision of when to breed is an important determinant of individual fitness. However, despite a multitude of studies investigating the intraspecific relationship between timing of breeding and reproductive performance, less is known about why the strength of this relationship varies between species. Furthermore, environmental change has the potential to alter the relationship between lay date and fitness, but there is still a limited understanding of what mechanisms drive these differential responses to change environmental conditions. We propose that the potential effects of environmental change on the relationship between timing of breeding and fitness are dependent on 2 primary factors: (1) the potential constraints imposed by breeding early and (2) the drivers of higher fitness of early breeders. We first summarize multiple hypotheses proposed to explain why breeding early, either based on absolute date or relative to conspecifics, increases fitness. We then summarize the factors that may constrain when individuals initiate breeding, including limits on the ability to advance their lay date or extend the length of their breeding season under favorable conditions. Understanding constraints on the timing of breeding allows for the identification of obligate (single-brooded species that do not attempt to breed after a specific date) and facultative (predominantly multi-brooding species that have long breeding seasons) early breeding species that are likely differently affected by climate change. Finally, we propose a simple mathematical formula that incorporates the costs and benefits associated with early breeding to quantify how climate change could influence the benefits of early breeding and either mitigate or exacerbate the costs. Our cost-benefit approach provides a clear framework to predict how species may shift the timing of their breeding to maximize fitness in a changing world.
Alex O. Sutton, Nikole E. Freeman, The biotic and abiotic drivers of timing of breeding and the consequences of breeding early in a changing world, Ornithology, Volume 140, Issue 3, 11 July 2023, ukad017, https://doi.org/10.1093/ornithology/ukad017
Follow Dr. Sutton