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Fitness Consequences of Northward Dispersal as Possible Adaptation to Climate Change, Using Experimental Translocation of a Migratory Passerine

  • Claudia Burger
  • Andreas Nord
  • Jan-Åke Nilsson
  • Gilot-Fromont Emmanuelle
  • Christiaan Both
Publishing year: 2013
Language: English
Publication/Series: PLoS ONE
Volume: 8
Issue: 12
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Public Library of Science

Abstract english

Climate change leads to rapid, differential changes in phenology across trophic levels, often resulting in temporal mismatches between predators and their prey. If a species cannot easily adjust its timing, it can adapt by choosing a new breeding location with a later phenology of its prey. In this study, we experimentally investigated whether long-distance dispersal to northern breeding grounds with a later phenology could be a feasible process to restore the match between timing of breeding and peak food abundance and thus improve reproductive success. Here, we report the successful translocation of pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) to natural breeding sites 560 km to the Northeast. We expected translocated birds to have a fitness advantage with respect to environmental phenology, but to potentially pay costs through the lack of other locally adapted traits. Translocated individuals started egg laying 11 days earlier than northern control birds, which were translocated only within the northern site. The number of fledglings produced was somewhat lower in translocated birds, compared to northern controls, and fledglings were in lower body condition. Translocated individuals were performing not significantly different to control birds that remained at the original southern site. The lack of advantage of the translocated individuals most likely resulted from the exceptionally cold spring in which the experiment was carried out. Our results, however, suggest that pied flycatchers can successfully introduce their early breeding phenotype after dispersing to more northern areas, and thus that adaptation through dispersal is a viable option for populations that get locally maladapted through climate change.


  • Biological Sciences


  • Centre for Animal Movement Research
  • ISSN: 1932-6203
Andreas Nord at NHM London
E-mail: andreas [dot] nord [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Evolutionary ecology

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