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The match/mismatch hypothesis (MMH) was first described by David Cushing (1969). The MMH "seeks to explain recruitment variation in a population by means of the relation between its phenology—the timing of seasonal activities such as flowering or breeding - and that of species at the immediate lower level", see Durant et al. (2007). In essence it is a measure of reproductive success due to how well the phenology of the prey is able to meet the requirements of its predator. In ecological studies, a few examples include; the seasonal occurrence of breeding bird species to that of their primary prey (Visser et al. 1998, Strode 2003), the interactions between herring fish reproduction and copepod spawning (Cushing 1990), or the relationship between winter moth egg hatching, and the timing of oak bud bursting (Visser & Holleman 2001).
Arctic habitats provide an exceptional area in the summer months for migrating birds looking to breed. In many areas there is an abundance of seasonal arthropods, an extended duration of a 24-hour photoperiod, and a general scarcity of predators (Schekkerman et al. 2003). Shorebirds and Passerines are two of the most speciose groups of birds that rely heavily on the presence of surface swarming Arthropods. The shorebirds are a very precocial group of animals that can all move around and feed for themselves on the day they hatch (Tulp & Schekkerman 2008). The Passerines, albeit still quite precocial, need a few days of being fed by the parents until they get to the point where they can acquire their own food resources (Tulp & Schekkerman 2008).
The insects of this region are also characterized by having a very short period of conspicuous activity. Many of them overwinter as larvae burrowed in the sediment in a state of diapause, waiting for the snow to melt and the ice to free from the ponds (Maclean & Pitelka 1971). Once clear, the animals can continue their development, that can take as long as 7 years (Butler 1982). Animals in their final year of development will pupate after a short feeding period and will form large ephemeral mating swarms in which copulation will occur. Shortly after oviposition will take place and the adult will then die.
Many arctic breeding waders migrate from areas where abundant calorie rich crustaceans are not a limiting factor in their development and fat storage (Meltofte 1996). These aforementioned emerging arthropods’ timing must be highly correlated with the laying of a migrating birds nest to allow for optimal success of the brood. Waders are under extreme physiological stress from the migration which requires them to inflate their breast muscles in preparation, as well as shrinking their digestive systems (Meltofte et al. 2008). These are birds that use an income breeding strategy, and so upon arrival do not have sufficient stores of fat to begin ovulation. Upon reaching the arctic, they must rebuild their digestive systems and be physiologically prepared to meet formidable conditions. This requires them to find an abundant prey source, and capitalize on it before they will be capable of laying a clutch (Meltofte et al. 2008).
If the bird arrives with sufficient time to recover these expended resources and lay their clutch with enough time to hatch at the period that prey density is going to be at its best, they will greatly increase the likelihood that those offspring are going to be given sufficient time to develop before they are forced back out of the arctic (Meltofte et al. 2008). If not, they risk a higher likelihood of nest depredation and a greater chance that the chicks will not have enough time to develop, and thus unable to fly independently back to a more temperate climate.
The complications of global climate change are far from being thoroughly understood. We now understand what our actions are doing to the planet, but are still working out the details on the myriad ways in which our actions are disrupting our ecosystems. Above the 60 degree latitude line, temperatures are expected to be raised by 2.5 °C by the middle of the 21st century (Kattsov et al. 2005). It is also projected that the annual mean air temperature will increase by 1 °C by 2020, 2 to 3 °C by 2050, and 4 to 5 °C by 2080 (Huntington & Weller 2005). Our current scientific understand still has a long way to go to truly understand the implications for these projections.
Top predators must coordinate their activities with their immediate lower prey on the trophic exchange. A good example of arising mismatch is the winter moth which has a rather unusual life cycle that is highly in tuned with its environment. As an adult, it awakes in the cold hardy month of November, mates, and then crawls back up the oak tree that it was undergoing its metamorphosis in to lay eggs that will then enter a state of diapause (Visser & Holleman 2001). Those eggs will begin developing in February and continue for several months before they hit a crucial point where they will want to hatch. This date of hatching is very important, because if they hatch as little as 5 days too early, they will starve to death (Visser & Holleman 2001). Also, if they hatch two weeks too late, the leaves of the oak tree that they so desperately rely on will have achieved tannin concentrations so high that it will not properly nourish the animals (Visser & Holleman 2001). This may seem like a trivial difference, but it will draw out the animals’ duration of which it is forced to feed and leaves it susceptible to further predation and parasitization risk. In recent years this is exactly what has been observed and the mechanisms relied upon for the phenology of each organism’s respective issues is being altered by a change in the weather pattern and which aspect each responds to (Visser & Holleman 2001).
Things not susceptible to the match/mismatch hypothesis
MMH applies virtually exclusively to specialist feeders. Other taxa, e.g. lizards, are more of a generalist type of feeder that is not dependent on any one type of food resource. Instances where either a match or mismatch is proposed always rely on the predator that is highly dependent on a singular type of resource (Visser et al. 1998, Visser & Holleman 2001, Cushing 1990). However, even more generalist species suffer from mismatch if their main food source is highly seasonal. The European pied flycatcher for example compensates a lack of caterpillars with flying insects, but this negatively affects offspring condition (Samplonius et al. 2016). Also, the predators and the prey must be relying on different abiotic cues (Durant et al. 2007). Typical instances also have the predator relying on an annually fixed abiotic cue, and the prey tends to use a cue that varies year to year (see above citations).
- Samplonius, Jelmer M; Kappers, Elena F; Brands, Stef; Both, Christiaan (6 June 2016). "Phenological mismatch and ontogenetic diet shifts interactively affect offspring condition in a passerine". Journal of Animal Ecology. doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12554. Retrieved 13 June 2016.
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Cushing, D. H., (1990). Plankton production and year-class strength in fish populations: an update of the match/mismatch hypothesis. Advances in Marine Biology (eds) JHS Blaxter and AJ Southward. Academic Press Limited, San Diego, CA. pgs: 250-313.
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Meltofte, H. (1996). African wintering waders really forced south by competition from northerly wintering conspecifics? Benefits and constraints of northern versus southern wintering. Ardea, 31-44. Retrieved from http://ardeajournal.natuurinfo.nl/ardeapdf/a84-031-044.pdf.
Meltofte, H., Hoye T. T., & Schmidt, N. M. (2008) Effects of Food Availability, Snow and Predation on Breeding Performance of Waders at Zackenberg. Advances in Ecological Research. Vol. 40 doi:10.1016/S0065-2504(07)00014-1.
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Schekkerman, H., Tulp, I., Piersma, T., & Visser, G. H. (2003). Mechanisms promoting higher growth rate in arctic than in temperate shorebirds. Oecologia, 134(3), 332-42. doi:10.1007/s00442-002-1124-0.
Visser, M. E., Noordwijk, a J. V., Tinbergen, J. M., & Lessells, C. M. (1998). Warmer springs lead to mistimed reproduction in great tits (Parus major). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 265(1408), 1867-1870. doi:10.1098/rspb.1998.0514.
Visser, M. E., & Holleman, L. J. (2001). Warmer springs disrupt the synchrony of oak and winter moth phenology. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 268(1464), 289-94. doi:10.1098/rspb.2000.1363.