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SHE Report Summary

Project ID: 337365
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: France

Mid-Term Report Summary - SHE (Multi-level Selection in a Heterogeneous Environment)

While many theoretical models predict how traits should evolve under natural and sexual selection, measures of traits in wild plants or animals shows that these rarely follow the predictions we can make. One of the reasons for our limited ability to predict evolution in the wild is that we lack of temporal and spatial replication in our observations, we lack studies on traits other than morphology, and we lack of statistical power.

Our ERC project ‘SHE’ (Selection in a Heterogeneous Environment) offers to integrate measures of selection at multiple levels (selection acting on phenotypic, additive genetic and genomic variations) for multiple potentially correlated traits (morphology, life-history, sexual ornament and personality) and across space and time.
So far, we have used data from a long-term monitoring project of blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus in multiple Mediterranean study sites at the southern edge of the species range, to show that the selection force and direction can vary greatly across different habitats, and also over time. The temporal fluctuations of selection can in part be attributed to climatic factors, with for example the recent warming resulting in a much stronger selection favouring earlier reproduction. We have also analysed specifically the ecological and evolutionary consequences of extreme climatic events, of particular relevance in a region identified as a main climate change ‘hotspot’.
Second, a comparison between urban and rural great tits Parus major has revealed two distinct urban and rural ecotypes with differences between the urban and rural ecotypes in their morphology, their life history, but also their personality, or behavioural syndromes.
Third, an ecological genomics approach has revealed a habitat-specific genetic architecture in blue tits breeding in Corsica, adding further support to the hypothesis of local adaptation in the evergreen and deciduous patches. Reversely no genetic structure was found in the urban great tits, suggesting important gene flow between the areas more or less urbanized. Further genomic analyses will in the future allow to analyze the genomic regions associated with two fundamental traits displaying important differentiation between evergreen versus deciduous birds as well as between urban versus rural birds, timing of breeding and personality.
The originality and strength of this project lay in the unique opportunity to develop refined analyses of selection in the wild in a multi-site setting for a vertebrate living in a well characterized heterogeneous habitat. Its main asset is the availability of long term phenotypic and genetic data. Its ambition is to create a textbook example to improve our understanding of the dynamics of selection in space and time.

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