Skip to content Skip to navigation Skip to footer

CAREER: The role of seasonal migration in avian diversification

Abstract: The goal of this project is to explore the role of natural selection on the wintering grounds of seasonal migratory birds in maintaining or opposing adaptive divergence. The project takes advantage of the wealth of information available for one of the most widely studied groups of animals. Additionally, the work will provide important information across all habitats for use in conservation of Neotropical migratory birds, over half of which are declining, by predicting the capacity of seasonal migratory animals to adapt to rapid environmental change. The project includes a 3-part plan to improve STEM education for underrepresented minority groups at the local, national, and international level: 1) Bird Camp – a multi-day educational outreach program targeting low-income schools in Fort Collins, Colorado; 2) Birds without Borders – a series of Spanish language (with English subtitles) videos that highlight the work of Latin American and female scientists developed with nature documentary film makers; and 3) Mexico Bioinformatics Workshop – an international genomic sequencing and bioinformatics workshop in collaboration with US and Mexican scientists.

Theoretical models have long supported the idea that strong migratory connections across the annual cycle will promote local adaptation to wintering areas, but empirical research to support this hypothesis is unexplored. This knowledge gap resulted from technological hurdles related to the inability to track migratory movements and assess patterns of adaptive divergence across the genome. The goal of the proposed work is to take advantage of recent advances in tracking technology and genomic sequencing to test theoretical predictions regarding the role of previously unexplored events on the wintering grounds in the process of adaptive evolution. The proposed work will leverage and synthesize population genomic and migratory movement data for 11 species of migratory birds to provide the first empirical test of the hypothesis that strong migratory connections across the annual cycle promote local adaptation to wintering areas. Genetic estimates of gene flow across time and space will be combined with habitat modeling to answer basic questions about the role of ecology and phenology in the process of adaptive divergence in seasonal migratory birds. The integration of ecological, molecular, and statistical approaches across a range of species will allow fundamental evolutionary questions to be addressed.

Status: Current

PI: Kristen Ruegg, Ph.D.

Source of Funding: NSF

Funding Program: CAREER

Award Amount: 1114243

Start Date: 07/01/2020

End Date: 06/30/2025

Link for more information: