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Linking climate niches across seasons to assess population vulnerability in a migratory bird

April 12, 2021

Global loss of biodiversity has placed new urgency on the need to understand factors regulating species response to rapid environmental change. While specialists are often less resilient to rapid environmental change than generalists, species-level analyses may obscure the extent of specialization when locally adapted populations vary in climate tolerances. Until recently, quantification of the degree of climate specialization in migratory birds below the species level was hindered by a lack of genomic and tracking information, but recent technological advances have helped to overcome these barriers. Here we take a genome-wide genetic approach to mapping population-specific migratory routes and quantifying niche breadth within genetically distinct populations of a migratory bird, the willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii), which exhibits variation in the severity of population declines across its breeding range. While our sample size is restricted to the number of genetically distinct populations within the species, our results support the idea that locally adapted populations of the willow flycatcher with narrow climatic niches across seasons are already federally listed as endangered or in steep decline, while populations with broader climatic niches have remained stable in recent decades. Overall, this work highlights the value of quantifying niche breadth within genetically distinct groups across time and space when attempting to understand the factors that facilitate or constrain the response of locally adapted populations to rapid environmental change.

Publication Year 2021
Title Linking climate niches across seasons to assess population vulnerability in a migratory bird
DOI 10.1111/gcb.15639
Authors Kristen Ruegg, Eric Anderson, Marius Somveille, Rachael A. Bay, Mary J. Whitfield, Eben H. Paxton, Thomas B. Smith
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Change Biology
Index ID 70223916
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center