Adaptive Phenotypic Plasticity in Response to Climate Change in a Wild Bird Population

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Science  09 May 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5877, pp. 800-803
DOI: 10.1126/science.1157174

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Rapid climate change has been implicated as a cause of evolution in poorly adapted populations. However, phenotypic plasticity provides the potential for organisms to respond rapidly and effectively to environmental change. Using a 47-year population study of the great tit (Parus major) in the United Kingdom, we show that individual adjustment of behavior in response to the environment has enabled the population to track a rapidly changing environment very closely. Individuals were markedly invariant in their response to environmental variation, suggesting that the current response may be fixed in this population. Phenotypic plasticity can thus play a central role in tracking environmental change; understanding the limits of plasticity is an important goal for future research.

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