Effects of ambient temperatures on evolutionary potential of reproductive timing in boreal passerines.


Vatka E(1), Orell M(2), Rytkönen S(2), Merilä J(1)(3).
Author information:
(1)Ecological Genetics Research Unit, Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme, Faculty Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
(2)Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, Faculty of Science, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland.
(3)Division of Ecology & Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong.


Many populations need to adapt to changing environmental conditions, such as warming climate. Changing conditions generate directional selection for traits critical for fitness. For evolutionary responses to occur, these traits need to be heritable. However, changes in environmental conditions can alter the amount of heritable variation a population expresses, making predictions about expected responses difficult. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of ambient temperatures on evolutionary potential and strength of natural selection on the timing of reproduction in two passerine birds breeding in boreal forests. Long-term data on individually marked Willow Tits Poecile montanus (1975-2018) and Great Tits Parus major (1969-2018) were analysed with random regression animal models to assess if spring temperatures affect the expressed amount of additive genetic variation (VA ) and heritability (h2 ) in the timing of breeding. We assessed if ambient temperatures of different seasons influenced the direction and strength of selection on breeding time. We also evaluated if the strength of selection covaried with evolutionary potential. Levels of VA or h2 expressed in laying date were unaffected by spring temperatures in both study species. Selection for earlier breeding was found in the Willow Tit, but not in the Great Tit. In the Willow Tit, selection for earlier breeding was more intense when the temperatures of following autumns and winters were low. Different measures of evolutionary potential did not covary strongly with the strength of selection in either species. We conclude that there is no or little evidence that climate warming would either constrain or promote evolutionary potential in timing of breeding through changes in amount of genetic variance expressed in boreal Willow and Great Tits. However, selection on the timing of breeding, a life-history event taking place in springtime, is regulated by temperatures of autumns and winters. Rapid warming of these periods have thus potential to reduce the rate of expected evolutionary response in reproductive timing.