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24 November 2016

Movement of feeder-using songbirds: the influence of urban features [Scientific Reports]

Keywords : animal migration, behavioural ecology, ecological modelling, ecosystem services, urban ecology

Private gardens provide vital opportunities for people to interact with nature. The most popular form of interaction is through garden bird feeding. Understanding how landscape features and seasons determine patterns of movement of feeder-using songbirds is key to maximising the well-being benefits they provide. To determine these patterns we established three networks of automated data loggers along a gradient of greenspace fragmentation. Over a 12-month period we tracked 452 tagged blue tits Cyantistes caeruleus and great tits Parus major moving between feeder pairs 9,848 times, to address two questions: (i) Do urban features within different forms, and season, influence structural (presence-absence of connections between feeders by birds) and functional (frequency of these connections) connectivity? (ii) Are there general patterns of structural and functional connectivity across forms? (...)

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23 November 2016

Rates of change in climatic niches in plant and animal populations are much slower than projected climate change [Royal Society Open Science]

Keywords : animals, climate change, climatic niche, niche evolution, phylogeography, plants

Climate change may soon threaten much of global biodiversity. A critical question is: can species undergo niche shifts of sufficient speed and magnitude to persist within their current geographic ranges? Here, we analyse niche shifts among populations within 56 plant and animal species using time-calibrated trees from phylogeographic studies. Across 266 phylogeographic groups analysed, rates of niche change were much slower than rates of projected climate change (mean difference > 200 000-fold for temperature variables). Furthermore, the absolute niche divergence among populations was typically lower than the magnitude of projected climate change over the next approximately 55 years for relevant variables, suggesting the amount of change needed to persist may often be too great, even if these niche shifts were instantaneous. Rates were broadly similar between plants and animals, but especially rapid in some arthropods, birds and mammals. Rates for temperature variables were lower at lower latitudes, further suggesting that tropical species may be especially vulnerable to climate change.

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23 November 2016

Artificial selection on male genitalia length alters female brain size [Royal Society Open Science]

Keywords : sexual conflict, sexual dimorphism, brain evolution, male harassment, gonopodium, Gambusia holbrooki

Male harassment is a classic example of how sexual conflict over mating leads to sex-specific behavioural adaptations. Females often suffer significant costs from males attempting forced copulations, and the sexes can be in an arms race over male coercion. Yet, despite recent recognition that divergent sex-specific interests in reproduction can affect brain evolution, sexual conflict has not been addressed in this context. Here, we investigate whether artificial selection on a correlate of male success at coercion, genital length, affects brain anatomy in males and females. We analysed the brains of eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki), which had been artificially selected for long or short gonopodium, thereby mimicking selection arising from differing levels of male harassment.(...)

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23 November 2016

Habitat specialization explains avian persistence in tidal marshes [Ecosphere]

Keywords : climate change, niche, specialism, species conservation, tidal marsh

Habitat specialists are declining at alarming rates worldwide, driving biodiversity loss of the earth’s next mass extinction. Specialist organisms maintain smaller functional niches than their generalist counterparts, and tradeoffs exist between these contrasting life history strategies, creating conservation challenges for specialist taxa. There is little work, however, explicitly quantifying “specialization”; such information is necessary for the development of focused conservation strategies in light of the rapidly changing landscapes of the modern world. In this study, we tested whether habitat specialism explains the persistence of breeding bird populations in tidal marshes of the northeastern United States. We used the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) together with contemporary marsh bird surveys to develop a Marsh Specialization Index (MSI) for 106 bird species that regularly use tidal marshes during the breeding season.(...)

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21 November 2016

Evolution alters the consequences of invasions in experimental communities [Nature Ecology & Evolution]

Keywords : experimental evolution, invasive species

Evolution has the capacity to alter the course of biological invasions, although such changes remain mostly unexplored by experiments. Integrating evolution into studies of invasions is important, because species traits can potentially evolve in ways that either moderate or exacerbate the impacts of invasions. We have assessed whether species evolved during experimental invasions by comparing the performance of founder populations and their potentially evolved descendants in communities of ciliates and rotifers.(...)

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