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Ecology and allometry predict the evolution of avian developmental durations

Cooney, Christopher R.; Sheard, Catherine; Clark, Andrew D.; Healy, Susan D.; Liker, András; Street, Sally E.; Troisi, Camille A.; Thomas, Gavin H.; Székely, Tamás; Hemmings, Nicola; Wright, Alison E.

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Christopher R. Cooney

Catherine Sheard

Andrew D. Clark

Susan D. Healy

András Liker

Camille A. Troisi

Gavin H. Thomas

Tamás Székely

Nicola Hemmings

Alison E. Wright


The duration of the developmental period represents a fundamental axis of life-history variation, yet broad insights regarding the drivers of this diversity are currently lacking. Here, we test mechanistic and ecological explanations for the evolution of developmental duration using embryological data and information on incubation and fledging for 3096 avian species. Developmental phases associated primarily with growth are the longest and most variable, consistent with a role for allometric constraint in determining the duration of development. In addition, developmental durations retain a strong imprint of deep evolutionary history and body size differences among species explain less variation than previously thought. Finally, we reveal ecological correlates of developmental durations, including variables associated with the relative safety of the developmental environment and pressures of breeding phenology. Overall, our results provide broad-scale insight into the relative importance of mechanistic, ecological and evolutionary constraints in shaping the diversification of this key life-history trait.


Cooney, C. R., Sheard, C., Clark, A. D., Healy, S. D., Liker, A., Street, S. E., …Wright, A. E. (2020). Ecology and allometry predict the evolution of avian developmental durations. Nature Communications, 11(1), Article 2383.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 23, 2020
Online Publication Date May 14, 2020
Publication Date 2020
Deposit Date May 27, 2020
Publicly Available Date May 27, 2020
Journal Nature Communications
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 11
Issue 1
Article Number 2383


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