1. Macroevolution of ecological niches, seasonal migration, and diversification in passerine birds

The macroevolution of ecological niches in birds is the core is the core topic of the Emmy Noether research group granted to Dr Susanne Fritz by the DFG (German Research Foundation). Key external project partners are Prof Katrin Böhning-Gaese at Senckenberg BiK-F, Dr Till Töpfer at the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Dr Jussi Eronen at the BIOS research unit and University of Helsinki, and Prof Carsten Rahbek at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of Denmark and University of Copenhagen.

We primarily investigate the evolutionary and ecological processes that shape species` ecological niches. In particular, we study realized climatic niches, i.e. the climatic conditions that living species can be found in, and ecomorphological traits, i.e. the morphological adaptations that enable species to occupy specific ecological niches. The project uses a macroevolutionary comparative framework across selected key taxa of passerine birds with migratory and sedentary species, because migratory and sedentary species experience vastly different climatic conditions throughout the year. Do migratory species track their climatic niches when they move from breeding to wintering areas and vice versa? Is climatic niche evolution across migratory and sedentary birds linked to paleo-climatic conditions? How is climatic niche evolution related to the evolution of ecomorphological traits and to the evolution of migratory behaviour? And can we find a relationship between the speed of climatic niche evolution and the diversification of clades, i.e. the speciation and extinction of avian lineages?

Highlighted publications on macroevolution of birds
Eyres, A., Böhning-Gaese, K. & S. A. Fritz (2017): Quantification of climatic niches in birds: adding the temporal dimension. - Journal of Avian Biology 48: 1517-1531.
An in-depth review of how climatic niches can be quantified from seasonal occurrence data in birds, because many species show seasonal or aseasonal movement behaviours that could mean that they occupy very different climatic conditions through the year. We also present a consistent classification of migratory behaviour for all living 10,443 bird species.

Khaliq, I., Fritz, S. A., Prinzinger, R., Pfenninger, M., Böhning-Gaese, K. & C. Hof (2015): Global variation in thermal physiology of birds and mammals: evidence for phylogenetic niche conservatism only in the tropics. - Journal of Biogeography, 42: 2187-2196.
An evaluation of how much phylogenetic history and the ambient environment experienced by species influence experimentally derived thermal tolerances across birds and mammals. We found that thermal tolerance limits are strongly phylogenetically conserved in tropical species but not in temperate ones.

Jønsson, K.A., Fabre, P.-H., Fritz, S.A., Etienne, R.S., Ricklefs, R.E., Jørgensen, T.B., Fjeldså, J., Rahbek, C., Ericson, P. G. P., Woog, F., Pasquet, E. & M. Irestedt (2012): Ecological and evolutionary determinants for the adaptive radiation of the Madagascan vangas. - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109: 6620-6624.
A collaboration with colleagues from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the Natural History Museum of Denmark investigating one of the most striking examples of adaptive radiation, i.e. the diversification of a group of species into different ecological niches. The vangas of Madagascar are spectacular because of their incredible diversity in feeding ecology and beak morphology, which we show to be linked to their diversification rates.

Beyond these highlighted publications, Susanne has published on diversification patterns of different passerine bird families, as well as on elevational diversity patterns and the links of functional diversity in frugivorous birds with seed dispersal of their food plants (see her publication list here )

Press releases on macroevolution of birds
„Gehen oder bleiben? – Neue Emmy Noether-Gruppe erforscht die Klima-Anpassung von Vögeln“ (in German only)
„Evolution: Vangas beat Darwin’s finches in diversity” (English), (German)

Other research themes

2. Diversity in time and space: integrating across fossil and living mammalian species
3. Global macroevolution, macroecology, and biogeography – the big picture
4. Past, current, and future human impacts on biodiversity

Back to project website