A (sorta) good news story about a songbird and climate change

By University of Manitoba

IMAGE CREDIT: University of Manitoba, Howard Patterson, FLICKR

MANITOBA, Canada –  University of Manitoba researchers made a recent discovery that suggests Purple Martins, unlike other long-distance migratory songbirds, show promise of being able to adapt to climate change.

The Purple Martin’s (Progne subis) breeding range spans from Florida to northern Alberta, and the smartphone-sized songbird passes our winter months on small islands in the Amazon river, 10,000 kilometers south of Canada’s prairies. So far away, they lack all cues on what is happening in northern environments, and that is problematic because as the climate warms, spring arrives earlier and earlier in northern latitudes, meaning the insects these birds depend upon on are hatching earlier—often before these birds arrive, famished and stressed.

If the birds are going to survive in Canada, they need to arrive earlier and then breed without delay. Is natural selection pressure bringing this about?

In their December 2019 Ecosphere paper, “Timing to temperature: egg laying dates respond to temperature and are under stronger selection at northern latitudes,” biological sciences masters student and lead author Amanda Shave, her Faculty of Science advising professor Kevin Fraser, UM collaborator Colin Garroway, and Joe Siegrist, leader of the Purple Martin Conservation Association examined 20-years-worth of previously un-utilized data collected from citizen scientists, looking at the records of 28,165 nest sites.

“Surprisingly, we found that martins could adjust the timing of their nesting— later in cool springs and earlier in warm springs—which is good news in that they have some flexibility to changing conditions. In the few other long-distance migrants that have been studied they have seemed less flexible in their timing,” Shave says.

Read more here: https://news.umanitoba.ca/a-sorta-good-news-story-about-a-songbird-and-climate-change/

Read the original article in Ecosphere here: https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecs2.2974