Northern bobwhite populations have declined concurrent with global warming. The focal period of this study was the 12-d pre-incubation period, when bobwhite eggs remain in the nest without the thermal protection of the incubating parent. This study first established the storage and thermal limits of bobwhite eggs, then investigated how global warming may impact oviparous embryos and how bobwhite embryos react to acute and chronic doses of simulated drought temperatures during pre-incubation.
First, the maximum storage limit of bobwhite eggs was determined by storing eggs ≤21 d and measuring hatching success and pH of egg albumen and yolk. Hatching success of stored eggs declined after 14 d, when yolk and albumen pH reached levels detrimental to embryonic development.
Secondly, thermal limits were determined by exposing bobwhite eggs to hyperthermic temperatures (38.52°C). Bobwhite embryos survived 50°C for 1 h, 49°C for 3 h and 46°C for 6 h. Results indicate an adaptation to the naturally occurring temperature extremes that can occur in the bobwhite's southern range during pre-incubation.
Subsequently, bobwhite eggs were exposed to either low constant (LC), low fluctuating (LF), high constant (HC), or high fluctuating (HF) temperatures during pre-incubation to determine if the nature of temperatures differentially affected development. Although eggs exposed to high heat loads (HC and HF), and low heat loads (LF and LC) had equal heating degree-hours within groups, they exhibited differential growth during pre-incubation. Oxygen consumption, hatch timing, and hatching success were also affected by the thermal regimes. Eggs in simulated drought (HF) had a 47% lower hatch rate than eggs in simulated non-drought (LF) indicating that thermal stress during pre-incubation may contribute to population declines during drought.
Finally, northern bobwhite eggs were exposed to acute or chronic doses of simulated drought temperatures, which tested for critical periods of development during pre-incubation. Collectively, data indicated that the earliest stages of bobwhite development were more affected by hyperthermic temperatures. Indeed, a critical period of development exists during the first 2/3 of pre-incubation during which exposure to hyperthermic temperatures results in aberrant development, hatching plasticity, and reduced hatch rates.