No phenotypic plasticity in nest-site selection in response to extreme flooding events

Liam Bailey (Corresponding author), B.J. Ens, C. Both, D. Heg, K. Oosterbeek, M. Van de Pol

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Phenotypic plasticity is a crucial mechanism for responding to changes in climatic means, yet we know little about its role in responding to extreme climatic events (ECEs). ECEs may lack the reliable cues necessary for phenotypic plasticity to evolve; however, this has not been empirically tested. We investigated whether behavioural plasticity in nest-site selection allows a long-lived shorebird (Haematopus ostralegus) to respond to flooding. We collected longitudinal nest elevation data on individuals over two decades, during which time flooding events have become increasingly frequent. We found no evidence that individuals learn from flooding experiences, showing nest elevation change consistent with random nest-site selection. There was also no evidence of phenotypic plasticity in response to potential environmental cues (lunar nodal cycle and water height). A small number of individuals, those nesting near an artificial sea wall, did show an increase in nest elevation over time; however, there is no conclusive evidence this occurred in response to ECEs. Our study population showed no behavioural plasticity in response to changing ECE patterns. More research is needed to determine whether this pattern is consistent across species and types of ECEs. If so, ECEs may pose a major challenge to the resilience of wild populations
Original languageEnglish
Article number139
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1723
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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