The climate threat: flycatchers show the way

flycatcher

Flycatchers can show us the way to more knowledge about our environment. Uppsala University’s world-leading long-time study of flycatchers, in which individual birds are studied from cradle to grave in their natural environment, offers many unique opportunities to study the impact of climate change on evolutionary processes.

Human activities currently threaten the climate, biodiversity, and human and animal health. These areas are emphasised in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and in several of Sweden’s national environmental objectives.

Detailed long-time studies of natural animal populations are extremely rare but play a tremendously important role in clarifying the biological impact of climate and environmental change and testing key theories in ecology, evolution and genetics.

Since 1980, Uppsala University has been conducting the largest long-time study of flycatchers in Europe, on the Swedish islands Gotland and Öland. Because of the information the study has accumulated, and the way it has been combined with modern genomic methods, the flycatcher study is currently regarded as a world-leading model system for studying ecology and evolution. The study addresses a broad range of questions, such as the impact of climate change on reproduction and survival strategies, population dynamics and factors that govern biological ageing in nature. Other questions include the spread and epidemiology of infections such as avian malaria and TBE.

The strength of the study lies in the fact that it follows individual birds from cradle to grave in their natural environment. This makes it possible to gather information on the birds’ lifetime breeding success and build up complete family trees extending over many generations. As a result, the flycatcher was one of the first birds in the world whose genome could be mapped.

The availability of detailed genetic information about the flycatcher population paves the way for unique opportunities to study the impact of climate change on evolutionary processes. Given the rapid environmental changes now in progress, the lessons that can be learned from the flycatcher studies are of growing importance. For example, a warmer climate is expected to favour the spread of infections between animals and humans, which would have considerable socioeconomic consequences. More knowledge that can enable us to foresee and prevent such developments is therefore a matter of global import.

“The availability of detailed genetic information paves the way for unique opportunities to study the impact of climate change on evolutionary and biological processes.”
Göran Arnqvist, Professor of Animal Ecology

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Head of Development Office: Agneta Stålhandske