Long-distance migratory birds often show little phenotypic variation in the timing of life-history events like breeding, molt, or migration. It has been hypothesized that this could result from low levels of heritable variation. If this were true, the adaptability of long-distance migratory birds would be limited, which would explain the vulnerability of this group of birds to environmental changes. The amount of phenotypic, environmental, and genetic variation in the onset of autumn migratory activity was assessed in two garden warbler (Sylvia borin) populations differing in breeding phenology and the length of the breeding season with the aim of investigating the effects of selection on the adaptability of long-distance migrants. High heritabilities and additive genetic variance components for the timing of autumn migration were found in both populations. Although genetic variation in the mountain population was lower than in the lowlands, this difference was not statistically significant. Moreover, no evidence was found for reduced levels of genetic variation in the garden warbler as compared to its sister species, the blackcap (S. atricapilla). Environmental variation, however, was markedly reduced in the garden warbler, suggesting that low levels of phenotypic variation typically found in long-distance migrants may be a consequence of environmental canalization of migratory traits. The buffering of environmental variation may be an adaptive response to strong stabilizing selection on the timing of migration. High environmental canalization of migration phenology in long-distance migrants could potentially explain low rates of immediate phenotypic change in response to environmental change. [KEYWORDS: heritability ; zugunruhe ; climate change ; adaptation ; canalization]
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Journal publication date2005

ID: 107209