Bird Feeders Speed Up Evolution

by Larry on December 5, 2009

Blackcap Warbler image courtesy of Wikipedia

National Public Radio (NPR) had a very interesting interview with Dr. Martin Schaefer, an associate professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Freiberg in Germany, regarding the evolutionary changes in the Blackcap Warbler (Sylvia atricapilla).  It seems that this bird began taking an alternate migration route to England about fifty years ago and found that the English are very generous bird feeders.

Due to the fact that their migratory routes are passed down to their offspring, there is now a group of Blackcaps that migrate to England every winter rather than to the milder mediterranean climate of Spain.  This has caused some genetic changes to occur in this species prompting Dr. Schaefer to conclude that sometime in the future, we may see a differnt species emerge.

Click on these links to listen to the interview (about 12 minutes) or read it from NPR.org.  You can also find more information on the Blackcap on Wikipedia and the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) has a page about this species where you can hear their beautiful call.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

chris December 5, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Hi Larry,
Well this is a perfect example on how our activities might affect directly nature…. But we might also think that this movement was first natural… You know some have even stayed here for the last three months and we got huge numbers of them in September… One can wonder what blackcap can find in Iceland!!!
But yes, I’m sometime very concerned about feeders use, as this does not really help species to be independent!
.-= chris´s last blog ..Thriteen lads show and pictures! =-.

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Larry December 5, 2009 at 7:23 pm

@Chris I believe that the movement was a natural phenomenon that was simply accelerated by the abundance of food in England, but you’re right, Iceland?

This could also be related to winters being warmer farther northward than they used to be due to climate change. See a post I wrote back in February on this.

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Patty December 17, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Mmm not sure I’m really buying the whole thing here, I mean sure humans affect nature in big ways but to contribute to a new species? Comon.

Maybe I’m just bitter bc I’m addicted to birdfeeders and have about 3 dozen different feeders on my property, but this study really isn’t convincing me that feeders speed up evolution.

Reply

Larry December 17, 2009 at 9:42 pm

@Patty it doesn’t seem too far fetched to me that changing the migration path of a species would alter their evolution. Whether it is caused by bird feeders or not is a reasonable question. One thing leads to another.

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