The consequences of heatwaves for animal reproduction are timing-dependent

Natalie Pilakouta*, Lorelei Sellers, Rebecca Barratt, Alice Ligonniere

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In light of the increased frequency of heatwaves due to climate change, it is crucial to better understand their potential effects on animal reproduction. Heat stress can affect all aspects of reproduction, including gamete development, fertilisation success, parental care and offspring survival. We may, therefore, expect these effects to be highly sensitive to the timing of a heatwave event relative to an organism's reproductive cycle. Here, we use an insect study system (Nicrophorus vespilloides) to test whether variation in the timing of a heatwave within a short timeframe has differential effects on reproductive success and offspring fitness. We found that heatwaves had little to no effect when they occurred a few days before or after mating, but they were highly detrimental for fitness if they occurred during mating. Individuals that experienced a heatwave during mating were significantly less likely to have a successful breeding bout, had a longer breeding bout, and their offspring were smaller and suffered a lower survival rate. Our study shows that variation in the timing of a heatwave event over very short timescales (on the order of days) can have drastically different consequences for animal reproduction. This work provides novel insights into the vulnerability of organisms at different stages of their reproductive cycle and can improve our ability to make informed predictions about the ecological consequences of heatwaves under climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2425-2433
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number9
Early online date4 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023


  • Climate change
  • Fitness
  • Mating
  • Offspring
  • Parental care
  • Reproductive success
  • Survival
  • Temperature


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