Study: Small birds versatile enough to cope with climate change


Despite the potential havoc wreaked by climate change, it’s not all doom and gloom for our planet. A new study projects that certain types of short-lived, small birds will easily withstand global warming throughout this century, even under worst-case carbon emissions scenarios.

Most studies predicting species’ fates due to global warming rely on models that assume species can survive only in the environmental conditions in which they currently live. But doing so ignores the possibility that species can adapt to a changing environment, said Ben Sheldon, an ornithologist at the University of Oxford and the senior author of the study, published Tuesday in PLOS Biology.

There are two main ways species can cope with a rising thermostat — by evolving or by being versatile. The former requires genetic changes in a short amount of time within a population. The latter, a concept biologists call phenotypic plasticity, involves adjusting to fit in, like a high school kid who can float in the nerd, jock and Goth crowds. For a bird, it means changing appearance or behavior to take advantage of a changing environment.  Sheldon and his team wanted to know which mechanism, if any, birds were using to adapt to climate change.

For more than 50 years, scientists had been monitoring birds called great tits in a woodland near Oxford. The famed ornithologist David Lack established the study site in an area called Wytham Woods, setting out nest boxes for the resident great tits and recording every aspect of the population’s dynamics.

Written By: Brad Balukjian
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  1. There seems to be a third way that species can cope with a rising thermostat: MOVE. I think that we will see a shift in distribution of many species. Their ranges will shift.

    For example, it seems that in Philly, we have inherited Florida’s climate. We have very little snow in the winter and our summer days are muggy, hot, and humid and culminate in afternoon torrential thunderstorms. Species that can move about easily (or in the OP’s picture….species that can fly) will shift their geographical distributions.

    I do not know if I am correct, this is just a prediction.

  2. Changing area to take advantage of available food supply already happens. It’s called migration!

  3. In reply to #4 by ApexDisorder:

    “Great tits” lol

    It is a British thing, Great Britain has great tits, the rest is just plain …

  4. Blackcaps have adapted to an amazing degree over just the last fifty years or so, partly due to the popularity of garden bird feeders in the UK since the fifties.

    The ones who’ve inherited long thin beaks don’t any longer need to migrate South because they can access the food through the nets, holes and meshes. Whereas those with thicker nut cracking bills still have to migrate to warmer climes in winter.

    Their wings too have become smaller and claws larger, and some now live as far North as Finland.

    Fascinating stuff!

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