Researchers at Uppsala University found evidence about climate change changing the face characteristics of the collared flycatchers, affecting the ornament traits. In the annual fitness selection, the forehead patch size was found to change compared to last year. This change was accounted to the rising spring temperatures in the collared flycatchers’ breeding site.
In the previous years, the collared flycatchers used this ornament trait to be a rival against the other males and attract mates. Their disappearing, decorative characteristic might be the start of a new sensitive natural selection. As the birds have high heritability, the change in the face characteristics can result in a rapid evolution due to sustained environmental change.
The Nature Ecology & Evolution magazine published the new results as a study of collared flycatchers on the Baltic Island of Gotland from 1980 to 2014. The research includes 15 generations and 10,842 birds.
Lars Gustafsson, a professor at the Uppsala University, stated that the individual-level quantitative data that they have collected allowed them to observe the change in the ornament size due to the natural selection. Besides the change in an individual characteristics in collared flycatchers, the research has importance in understanding natural selection itself and, as a result, the evolution. Although a direct link between natural selection and the climate change remains without evidence, Gustafsson still looks for enough proof.
The reason why this research is important for understanding evolution is that the related data had been collected for several decades. A long-term population study can highlight some undiscovered facts about the nature of evolution. In early 1980’s, it wouldn’t be foreseen that the research would contribute to understanding the effects of climate change on natural dynamics.