Ecotypic changes of alpine birds to climate change

In endotherm animals, several traits are related to climate. For example, Bergmann’s rule predicts a decrease in body size within species and across closely related species with increasing temperature,whereas Gloger’s rule states that birds and mammals should be darker in humid and warm environments compared to colder and drier areas. However, it is still not clear whether ecotypic responses to variation in the local environment can also apply to morphological and colouration changes through time in response to climate change.

In this study, Maria del Mar Delgado and her coleagues present a 100-year-long time series on morphological and melanin-based colours of snowfinch (325 Montifringilla, 92 Pyrgilauda and 30 Onychostruthus) museum specimens. The research findings demonstrate that the tarsus length of the species has decreased and the saturation of the melanin-based colour has increased, which was correlated with the increase of temperature and precipitations. 

As ecotypic variations are tightly linked to individual behavioural and physiological responses to environmental variations, differently sized and coloured individuals are expected to be differently penalized by global changes. This study opens the pertinent question about whether ecotypic responses can enhance population persistence in the context of global change.

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