Shared morphological consequences of global warming in North American migratory birds

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Increasing temperatures associated with climate change are predicted to cause reductions in body size, a key determinant of animal physiology and ecology. Using a four-decade specimen series of 70 716 individuals of 52 North American migratory bird species, we demonstrate that increasing annual summer temperature over the 40-year period predicts consistent reductions in body size across these diverse taxa. Concurrently, wing length – an index of body shape that impacts numerous aspects of avian ecology and behaviour – has consistently increased across species. Our findings suggest that warming-induced body size reduction is a general response to climate change, and reveal a similarly consistent and unexpected shift in body shape. We hypothesise that increasing wing length represents a compensatory adaptation to maintain migration as reductions in body size have increased the metabolic cost of flight. An improved understanding of warming-induced morphological changes is important for predicting biotic responses to global change.




Weeks, B. C., Willard, D. E., Zimova, M., Ellis, A. A., Witynski, M. L., Hennen, M., & Winger, B. M. (2020, February 1). Shared morphological consequences of global warming in North American migratory birds. Ecology Letters. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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