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Ecological and Evolutionary consequences of predator-prey phenological match-mismatch driven by climate change

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EcoEvoClim (Ecological and Evolutionary consequences of predator-prey phenological match-mismatch driven by climate change)

Berichtszeitraum: 2017-05-15 bis 2019-05-14

Global Climate Change is affecting the phenotype, abundance, and distribution of animal and plant populations as well as their interactions, e.g. phenological shifts affecting predator-prey time match-mismatch. Understanding how organisms cope with change is a fundamental objective of biologists. Scientists are now increasingly aware that ecological and evolutionary change in response to Climate Change can occur concurrently, while their interaction can affect populations in a process called eco-evolutionary dynamics. However, we know little about the role of genetic and correlated traits variation and their relations to plasticity in the ability of organisms to cope with Climate Change. The main goal of EcoEvoClim is to assess the role of genetic variation and plasticity in the eco-evolutionary response to Climate Change of (mis)timed predator populations with a genetically determined colour polymorphism that covaries with behavioural traits. To this aim, I will use observational and theoretical approaches, by combining state-of-the art technology, long-term field datasets, and latest population modelling tools.

I will use the Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae) colonies in the Canary Islands (Spain) as a model system. This is a long-distance migrant that breeds throughout the whole Mediterranean Basin and winters in Madagascar. It occurs in two distinct melanin-based colour morphs independent of age and sex caused by variation in the Mc1r gene. Predicting whether dark or pale morphs will be more affected by environmental change will depend on the adaptive function of colour polymorphism and how it covaries with behaviour and physiology. During the breeding season, the Eleonora's falcon specializes in hunting migratory birds that it captures over the ocean as they head to Africa. Consequently, its breeding season is delayed to coincide with the peak in autumn migration, and breeding colonies are located along the main migratory flyways connecting Europe and Africa. Unlike its Mediterranean colonies, the Eleonora's falcon colonies in the Canary Islands lie away from major migratory flyways and so migratory birds only reach the Canary archipelago accidentally when blown off-course by trade winds. Currently, rising temperatures and oscillations in pressure systems (e.g. the North Atlantic Oscillation, NAO) are influencing large-scale wind patterns. Furthermore, autumn migration in birds breeding in Europe and wintering south of the Sahara has advanced in recent years, while that of migrants wintering north of the Sahara has been delayed.

In this project, I will investigate the role of genetic variation and plasticity in the eco-evolutionary responses of (mis)timed predator populations to climate change via three interrelated objectives. 1) Quantify the extent to which climate change affects the match between peak food abundance and the timing of breeding in a specialist predator, 2) examine if and how predators cope with climate change and whether genetic variation can reduce the timing mismatch and 3) assess how genetic variation and plasticity jointly affect the eco-evolutionary response of populations to climate change.
I used state-of-the-art technology and long-term field datasets to fulfill the following objectives:
1. Quantify how climate change affects predator-prey spatio-temporal match-mismatch. I analyzed the relationships between wind patterns and profiles of songbirds’ migration flows (radar data) during the Eleonora’s falcon breeding season by using forward trajectory models and the relationships between wind patterns and hunting effort and productivity of falcons.
I conducted two fieldwork campaigns to monitor the breeding population of Eleonora’s falcons and acquire GPS data. I gathered wind data and data on bird migration flux from a weather radar located in Portugal.

2. Determine whether predators adjust their breeding phenotype in response to climate change as a means of understanding their ability to cope plastically with phenological mismatch, and the influence of genetic variation therein. I used data on breeding performance obtained during 2007-2018 and broad-scale environmental data. I obtained precise data on food provisioning by using cameras in nests held by differently colored males.

3. Quantify ecological (plasticity, population size and structure) and evolutionary (color morphs distribution) consequences of predator-prey asynchrony to provide insight into the role of genetic variation in population resilience to environmental impacts. I am using a novel theoretical approach and the latest population modelling tools to assess how genetic variation and plasticity jointly affect the eco-evolutionary response of populations to climate change, and compare model predictions with my own field observations.

Main results achieved so far.
We unraveled the mechanism by which Atlantic trade winds determine the viability of the Eleonora’s falcon population from the Canary Islands. This manuscript is currently under review.
I collaborated in a study that uses GPS data of Eleonora’s falcons from the species’ range to address the current and future suitability of the species’ wintering grounds under the environmental changes associated with Global change. The results of this study were published in: Kassara, C., Gangoso, L., et al. 2017. Current and future suitability of wintering grounds for a long-distance migratory raptor. Scientific reports, 7(1), p.8798.
I assessed whether mating patterns, natal dispersal, and breeding output were phenotype (morph)-dependent in the Eleonora’s falcon. The results of this study were published in: Gangoso, L. and Figuerola, J., 2019. Breeding success but not mate choice is phenotype-and context-dependent in a color polymorphic raptor. Behavioral Ecology.
I have already generated and will continue generating novel results regarding the role of genetic and correlated variation in fitness-related traits in individual sensitivity that affect population resilience to climate change. The eco-evolutionary angle of this project will also aid conservation biologists in their efforts to accurately predict the eco-evolutionary responses to climate change. Overall, my results will increase our understanding of how populations will persist under climate change and provide a new eco-evolutionary dimension to the study of the predator-prey systems that are having to confront phenological mismatches caused by climate change.

The project makes an important direct contribution to European excellence. It strengthens Europe’s position in the study of complex interactions between organisms and the changing environment via highly innovative research into the role of variation in genetic and associated traits in population resilience in the environmental change. These concepts should be considered within a framework of the vast array of algorithms that has been recently computed to assess species’ future ranges and abundances, and will improve current guidelines on conservation strategies.
When wind conditions are optimal, Eleonora's falcons hunt as much as they can and store hunted prey
A differently colored Eleonora's falcon (Falco eleonorae) breeding pair; Photo: Jesús Palmero
Intraspecific predation is a common phenomenon under periods of food scarcity
A female Eleonora's falcon tagged with a Uva_Bits GPS device