Washington: For small and short-lived birds, evolution can work fast enough for genetic adaptation to keep pace with a changing environment, a new study has revealed.
In the analysis, based on more than fifty years` detailed study of a population of great tits near Oxford, UK, a team of scientists have found that even for such fast-evolving species, evolution on its own is not enough.
The study, conducted by scientists from the University of Oxford, found that individual birds have a built-in flexibility that enables them to adjust their behaviour rapidly in response to short-term changes in the environment.
This flexibility-known as phenotypic plasticity-greatly increases the chances that a population can survive in spite of short-term changes, but that possibility depends on how closely they can track the key aspects of their environment, such as the availability of food.
As species become longer-lived, and thus slower to reproduce, evolutionary adaptation is far slower and can`t on its own save such species from climate change-induced extinction.
The team combined their intensive study of the birds with data on how this key caterpillar food source has changed over time, allowing them to predict how well the birds can track the change in the environment through its effects on the caterpillar population.
The study was published on July 9 in the open access journal PLOS Biology.