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Northern bird found to be more resilient to winter weather

Date:
June 29, 2016
Source:
University of East Anglia
Summary:
Northern wrens are larger and more resilient to winter weather than those living in the south, new research reveals. The research means that populations inhabiting regions where winters are more severe show some form of adaptation. The research team say that their findings have particular relevance to our understanding of how birds and other species are able to respond to climate change.
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One of the UK's most widespread songbirds, the Wren, varies in its resilience to winter weather depending on where it lives in Britain -- according to new research from the University of East Anglia and the British Trust for Ornithology.

Findings published today in the Royal Society journal Open Science reveal that Scottish Wrens are larger than those living in southern Britain, and more resilient to hard winter frosts.

Populations of small birds may decline following periods of cold winter weather, something that is probably linked to low temperatures and difficulties in finding sufficient insect prey.

Researchers at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and UEA's School of Biology studied one of the UK's smallest songbirds, the Wren.

They found that populations inhabiting regions where winters are more severe show some form of adaptation.

The team used information on Wren populations that had been collected by volunteers participating in the Breeding Bird Survey -- the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK's common breeding birds, run by the BTO, the RSPB and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

The researchers found that Wren populations were susceptible to severe winter weather, measured in terms of the number of days with a ground frost. However, northern populations were found to be resilient to winters with up to 70 per cent more frost days than southern populations, suggesting a degree of local adaptation.

James Pearce-Higgins, BTO director of Science and one of the authors, said "This work indicates that each Wren population is closely adapted to its local climate. There was a close correlation between the historic regional climate and the degree to which the population was resilient to severe winters."

Using information collected by bird ringers, the team also found that Wren body mass was approximately 5 per cent lower in the warmest (south-west) than in the coldest (east Scotland) region.

Lead author Catriona Morrison, from UEA, said: "Large individuals are likely to be favoured in colder regions due to the thermal advantage of larger size and their ability to store more body fat. Our findings match the pattern seen more wildly across other species -- a pattern known as Bergmann's rule."

The findings of this study have particular relevance to our understanding of how birds and other species respond to climate change.

Although this work shows that wren populations may adapt to at least some change in temperature, they are short-lived and therefore probably more adaptable than most other bird species.

Ultimately, the ability of species to cope with climate change will depend upon whether the future rate of warming exceeds their ability to adapt.


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Materials provided by University of East Anglia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Catriona A. Morrison, Robert A. Robinson, James W. Pearce-Higgins. Winter wren populations show adaptation to local climate. Royal Society journal Open Science, June 2016 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160250

Cite This Page:

University of East Anglia. "Northern bird found to be more resilient to winter weather." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 June 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160629125821.htm>.
University of East Anglia. (2016, June 29). Northern bird found to be more resilient to winter weather. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 26, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160629125821.htm
University of East Anglia. "Northern bird found to be more resilient to winter weather." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160629125821.htm (accessed May 26, 2017).

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