Maintenance of Bird Biodiversity

Understanding adaptation to change

IU distinguished Professor Ellen Ketterson and her team are addressing the capacity of a model organism—a widely studied species that is useful for research—to adapt to environmental change. The researchers are measuring population-level differences spanning physiology, behavior, gene expression, and protein synthesis in key traits related to migration and the timing of reproduction.

Experiments are being conducted in both controlled environments and in the wild to get a better understanding of how the birds react to different settings. The research also addresses ways to overcome the reluctance of wild songbirds to breed in captivity to enable lines of research previously not possible.

Additional questions being explored by the team include the role of day length and temperature in regulating migratory and reproductive timing in sedentary and migratory songbirds and the relative importance of genes and environment in the timing of migration and reproduction. Improved understanding of these factors can help determine the birds’ level of flexibility in response to environmental change.