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The seasonal decline in reproductive success observed in many animal species may be caused by timing per se (timing hypothesis) or by variation in phenotypic quality between early and late breeding females (quality hypothesis). To distinguish between these two hypotheses, several studies of birds have used clutch removal experiments to manipulate breeding date. However, removal experiments also increase the females' previous reproductive effort due to the production of an extra clutch and a longer incubation period. According to life-history theory an increase in reproductive effort lowers future reproduction. Hence, life-history theory predicts lowered success of replacement broods for other reasons than expected from the timing hypothesis. Female great reed warblers, Acrocephalus arundinaceus, studied in Sweden are frequently exposed to nest predation, after which many lay replacement clutches. In order to examine possible effects of previous reproductive effort on different fitness components, we analysed the re-laying frequency and the reproductive success of replacement broods in relation to time of the season and previous reproductive effort (measured as the length of the previous breeding attempt, LPB). In clutches of re-laying females both the number of fledglings and the proportion of recruits were negatively correlated with LPB, whereas re-laying frequency and clutch size were not related to LPB. We expect such relationships to be present also among other species. Consequently, the use of replacement clutches, as for example in clutch removal experiments, in evaluations of the cause of the often observed seasonal decline in various fitness components, might exaggerate the importance of the timing hypothesis over the quality hypothesis.
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