Research suggests that bird color change

blue tit

image: More than 5,800 observations were made between 2005 and 2019 of the color and other characteristics of the blue tit like this one
vision Lake

Credit: David López-Idiaquez.

The work, which was carried out over a period of 15 years (2005-2019) through a collaboration between scientists from the UPV/EHU and the Center d’Ecology Fonctionnelle et Évolutive in Montpellier (CEFE-CNRS), targeting two populations of blue tits in the south of France, one on the outskirts of Montpellier and the other in the northwest of the island of Corsica.

Every year between 2005 and 2019, all breeding blue tits in each population were captured. This allowed researchers from the two institutions to collect more than 5,800 observations about the blue tits’ coloration and other characteristics.

The blue tit is characterized by its striking color scheme: a blue crest and a yellow breast. The results of the study show a decline in both blue- and yellow-colored populations between 2005 and 2019. In other words, the blue crested and yellow breasts of blue tits in these two populations are now, on average, less colorful than when the study began.

“Our work suggests that environmental changes, and in particular climate change, may be the main reason why birds such as the blue tit undergo a change in their physical characteristics, more specifically in the brightness and intensity of their coloration,” said David López-Idiáquez , researcher at the Department of Plant Biology and Ecology of the UPV/EHU.

“A negative trend has been observed in terms of brightness and intensity of plumage coloration in both sexes and populations, although in Corsica this change is more associated with climate,” explains López. The change in plumage color seems to be the result of a combination of an increase in temperature (1.23 C) and a decrease in rainfall (0.64 mm), so climate change could be the possible cause of this difference. be,” he said.

Change in Species Mating Patterns

It may seem like a purely aesthetic change, but the opposite is true, as this change in feathers can have an effect on the “mating patterns” of the species. “In these birds, traits such as coloration act as cues to indicate to other individuals the quality of the specimen, which determines breeding, for example,” explains David López.

“This study was made possible thanks to the continuous monitoring of the two blue tit populations for more than 15 years, highlighting the importance of long-term studies to understand the effects of climate change on the ecosystems around us,” he said.

When there is variation in the territory, animal populations have 4 options: the first is to undergo genetic change; the second is to undergo plastic change (change in physical characteristics without genetic changes); the third is to migrate; and the last, to disappear. “It is important to emphasize that this change is not genetic, but plastic, one of the ways of adapting to new environmental conditions,” he emphasized.

Change in our environment

“Since our environment is quite similar, albeit less hot, our birds may undergo the same change,” David surmised. “In any case, there are only four such studies in the world, and none of them have been conducted in the Basque Country; I think it would be very interesting to do more of this kind of research, not only at the Basque level, but also at the national level,” he added.

David López-Idiáquez (Villajoyosa, 1988) is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of the Basque Country and at the Center d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Évolutive in Montpellier. His research interests are focused on understanding how the heterogeneity of environmental conditions changes evolutionary dynamics, especially in ornamental features. After graduating from the UPV/EHU, he obtained a PhD in Ecology from the Autonomous University of Madrid in collaboration with the Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid.

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