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Timing of bird migration under climate change: phenotypic plasticity, microevolutionary response or both?

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How birds adapt to climate change

An EU-funded project has studied the effect of changes in climate on bird migration. Studying the behaviour of birds can help indicate how such changes will affect other, less well studied species.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

Climate is changing on a global scale, exposing organisms to new environmental conditions. These include changes to the seasons and altering periodic life-cycle events in animals and plants, such as bird migration or plant blossoming, and changing their phenology. However, the mechanisms by which these adaptations occur are poorly understood. The aim of the BIRDCLIMCHANGE project, funded by the EU, was to explore which mechanism is actually in operation. Understanding how migratory bird species adapt to current climate change was the project's main goal. To achieve this, analyses were performed on data from a pied flycatcher population from southern Norway, a migratory bird presumed to winter in tropical West Africa. The project's main findings revealed a significant advancement in migratory phenology, with flycatchers arriving at their breeding grounds in Norway over 4 days earlier than they did almost 30 years ago. This was the result of a trade-off between, on the one hand, climatic changes in the wintering areas and migratory journey and, on the other hand, conditions at the breeding grounds. Unfortunately, not all the project's aims could be accomplished within its lifetime. However, preliminary analyses to determine the mode of inheritance of a particular trait have already started and are expected to be finished soon. As a result of the now completed project, several scientific publications are being prepared. Furthermore, since the project set out to understand the effects of climate change in this field, the results will be of great significance to Europe's conservation policies.

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