Carnegie Museum of Natural History

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April 16, 2017


New Publication Shows Local Birds Adapting to Warmer Springs
Researchers at Carnegie Museum of Natural History publish findings in PLOS ONE.

Birds in western Pennsylvania are adapting to climate change by breeding soon after they migrate, according to a new manuscript published by researchers at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Using long-term data sets collected at Powdermill Nature Reserve, the museum’s environmental research center in Rector, Pennsylvania, researchers Molly McDermott, a post-doctoral data analyst, and Luke DeGroote, the avian research coordinator at Powdermill Nature Reserve, correlated warmer weather to changes in birds’ breeding habits.
Previous studies established that birds in western Pennsylvania are migrating earlier, and McDermott and DeGroote demonstrated that birds are breeding earlier in warmer summers and over time in a paper published last year.
Their most recent manuscript establishes that birds are initiating breeding more quickly after arrival.
Their manuscript, “Linking phenological events in migratory passerines with a changing climate: 50 years in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania,” was published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed journal, on April 12, 2017.
“I think this is a story of hope but also a warning,” said DeGroote. “Many species are adapting, which is good news, but the window of time that birds are using to catch up—the time from arrival to nest building—is closing. That short-term adaptability, which scientists refer to as plasticity, may one day break.”
McDermott and DeGroote used long-term data from the bird banding lab at Powdermill Nature Reserve, which has tracked bird migration for more than 50 years, making it one of the longest-running bird banding facilities in the country.
“The data set collected in the past 50 years at Powdermill is an invaluable tool for researchers to observe changes in bird populations and behaviors,” said John Wenzel, director of Powdermill Nature Reserve. “Molly and Luke’s research is an excellent use of this information that gives insight into how species in our area are adapting to change.” 
This is the second paper published by McDermott and DeGroote that examines how birds are adapting to a changing climate. Their previous research was featured on Science Friday and in Anthropocene Magazine.
This research was supported by grants from Colcom Foundation, Laurel Foundation, and private donors.
The manuscript can be found at


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