Bergmann's rule and climate change revisited: Disentangling environmental and genetic responses in a wild bird population

Ecological Genetics Research Unit, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, PO Box 65, FI-00014 University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.81). 10/2008; 105(36):13492-6. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0800999105
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Ecological responses to on-going climate change are numerous, diverse, and taxonomically widespread. However, with one exception, the relative roles of phenotypic plasticity and microevolution as mechanisms in explaining these responses are largely unknown. Several recent studies have uncovered evidence for temporal declines in mean body sizes of birds and mammals, and these responses have been interpreted as evidence for microevolution in the context of Bergmann's rule-an ecogeographic rule predicting an inverse correlation between temperature and mean body size in endothermic animals. We used a dataset of individually marked red-billed gulls (Larus novaehollandiae scopulinus) from New Zealand to document phenotypic and genetic changes in mean body mass over a 47-year (1958-2004) period. We found that, whereas the mean body mass had decreased over time as ambient temperatures increased, analyses of breeding values estimated with an "animal model" approach showed no evidence for any genetic change. These results indicate that the frequently observed climate-change-related responses in mean body size of animal populations might be due to phenotypic plasticity, rather than to genetic microevolutionary responses.

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