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Credit: Wendy Miller/Flickr

New studies reveal genetic adaptations in California birds

Two studies reveal how genetic changes in bird populations in California respond to environmental threats, highlighting the potential for adaptation and the risks of genetic dilution.

Rebecca Heisman reports for The Revelator.


In short:

  • The southwestern willow flycatcher has developed genetic traits for heat tolerance in response to changing climate conditions, although its population is still declining.
  • Savannah sparrows face the dilution of their salt-tolerant adaptations due to gene flow from inland birds, threatening their ability to survive in saltmarsh environments.
  • Both studies underline the importance of natural history collections in understanding and addressing these environmental challenges.

Key quote:
“These genetic changes are imperceptible to the human eye ... [but] we were able to identify several genes that are likely involved in heat tolerance and the birds’ ability to effectively dissipate heat in humid environments.”

— Sheela Turbek, postdoctoral fellow at Colorado State University

Why this matters:
Understanding genetic adaptations to environmental changes helps inform conservation efforts, enabling scientists to safeguard species facing increasingly rapid shifts due to climate change. Read more: Climate change creates camouflage confusion in winter-adapted wildlife.

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