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A new study has shed light on the potential of birds to survive in the face of climate change. In the analysis, based on more than fifty years' detailed study of a population of great tits near Oxford, UK, a team of scientists were able to make predictions about how the birds could cope with a changing climate in the future. They found that for small, short-lived birds like the great tit, evolution can work fast enough for genetic adaptation to keep pace with a changing environment. However, even for such fast-evolving species, evolution on its own is not enough.
Read more at: phys.org...
By studying individual birds over multiple years, the team were able to show that individual birds have a built-in flexibility that enables them to adjust their behaviour rapidly in response to short-term changes in the environment. This flexibility—known as phenotypic plasticity—greatly increases the chances that a population can survive in spite of short-term changes, but that possibility depends on how closely they can track the key aspects of their environment, such as the availability of food. As species become longer-lived, and thus slower to reproduce, evolutionary adaptation is far slower and can't on its own save such species from climate change-induced extinction.