Ecological opportunity and the evolution of habitat preferences in an arid-zone bird: implications for speciation in a climate-modified landscape
Norman, JA & Christidis, L 2016, 'Ecological opportunity and the evolution of habitat preferences in an arid-zone bird: implications for speciation in a climate-modified landscape', Scientific Reports, vol. 6, no. 19613.
Bioclimatic models are widely used to investigate the impacts of climate change on species distributions. Range shifts are expected to occur as species track their current climate niche yet the potential for exploitation of new ecological opportunities that may arise as ecosystems and communities remodel is rarely considered. Here we show that grasswrens of the Amytornis textilis-modestus complex responded to new ecological opportunities in Australia’s arid biome through shifts in habitat preference following the development of chenopod shrublands during the late Plio-Pleistocene. We find evidence of spatially explicit responses to climatically driven landscape changes including changes in niche width and patterns of population growth. Conservation of structural and functional aspects of the ancestral niche appear to have facilitated recent habitat shifts, while demographic responses to late Pleistocene climate change provide evidence for the greater resilience of populations inhabiting the recently evolved chenopod shrubland communities. Similar responses could occur under future climate change in species exposed to novel ecological conditions, or those already occupying spatially heterogeneous landscapes. Mechanistic models that consider structural and functional aspects of the niche along with regional hydro-dynamics may be better predictors of future climate responses in Australia’s arid biome than bioclimatic models alone.