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Title: The influence of spatially heterogeneous anthropogenic change on bill size evolution in a coastal songbird

Natural history collections provide an unparalleled resource for documenting population responses to past anthropogenic change. However, in many cases, traits measured on specimens may vary temporally in response to a number of different anthropogenic pressures or demographic processes. While teasing apart these different drivers is challenging, approaches that integrate analyses of spatial and temporal series of specimens can provide a robust framework for examining whether traits exhibit common responses to ecological variation in space and time. We applied this approach to analyze bill morphology variation in California Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis). We found that bill surface area increased in birds from higher salinity tidal marshes that are hotter and drier. Only the coastal subspecies,alaudinus,exhibited a significant increase in bill size through time. As with patterns of spatial variation,alaudinuspopulations occupying higher salinity tidal marshes that have become warmer and drier over the past century exhibited the greatest increases in bill surface area. We also found a significant negative correlation between bill surface area and total evaporative water loss (TEWL) and estimated that observed increases in bill size could result in a reduction of up to 16.2% in daily water losses. Together, these patterns of spatial and temporal variation in bill size were consistent with the hypothesis that larger bills are favored in freshwater‐limited environments as a mechanism of dissipating heat, reducing reliance on evaporative cooling, and increasing water conservation. With museum collections increasingly being leveraged to understand past responses to global change, this work highlights the importance of considering the influence of many different axes of anthropogenic change and of integrating spatial and temporal analyses to better understand the influence of specific human impacts on population change over time.

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Journal Name:
Evolutionary Applications
Medium: X Size: p. 607-624
p. 607-624
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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