Plataforma sobre Adaptación al Cambio Climático en España

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Global warming and Bergmann’s rule: do central European passerines adjust their body size to rising temperatures?

Recent climate change has caused diverse ecological responses in plants and animals. However, relatively little is known about homeothermic animals’ ability to adapt to changing temperature regimes through changes in body size, in accordance with Bergmann’s rule. We used fluctuations in mean annual temperatures in south-west Germany since 1972 in order to look for direct links between temperature and two aspects of body size: body mass and flight feather length. Data from regionally born juveniles of 12 passerine bird species were analysed. Body mass and feather length varied significantly among years in eight and nine species, respectively. Typically the inter-annual changes in morphology were complexly non-linear, as was inter-annual variation in temperature. For six (body mass) and seven species (feather length), these inter-annual fluctuations were significantly correlated with temperature fluctuations. However, negative correlations consistent with Bergmann’s rule were only found for five species, either for body mass or feather length. In several of the species for which body mass and feather length was significantly associated with temperature, morphological responses were better predicted by temperature data that were smoothed across multiple years than by the actual mean breeding season temperatures of the year of birth. This was found in five species for body mass and three species for feather length. These results suggest that changes in body size may not merely be the result of phenotypic plasticity but may hint at genetically based microevolutionary adaptations.