Does habitat fragmentation promote climate-resilient phenotypes?

Published online: 
21 February 2018

Christopher E. Latimer, Sheldon J. Cooper, William H. Karasov, Benjamin Zuckerberg

Understanding how individual differences in physiological performance modify behavioral responses to environmental variability and its fitness consequences is key to predicting the vulnerability of species and populations to environmental change. For many species, summit metabolic rate (MSUM; the upper limit to heat production) and basal metabolic rate (BMR; the lower limit related to energy acquisition and processing) often constrain aspects of physiological performance and behavioral activity. We examined the relationship between metabolic phenotypes, foraging behavior, and survival in overwintering black-capped chickadees Poecile atricapillus inhabiting contiguous and fragmented forested landscapes. We found that birds with lower summit metabolic rates were generally more sensitive to winter weather and increased their use of supplemental feeding stations as ambient temperatures decreased. In highly fragmented forests, this relationship may have incurred strong survival consequences, as birds with lower summit metabolic rates were less likely to survive the winter season. Additionally, we found that chickadee populations persisting in fragmented landscapes were characterized by slightly higher thermogenic capacity (MSUM) and lower maintenance metabolic costs (BMR). We suggest that habitat loss and fragmentation present unique selection pressures that alter the relationships between environmental variability, behavior and physiology, and result in context-specific fitness consequences.

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