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Recent Beak Evolution in North American Starlings after Invasion

  • Zichello, Julia M.
  • DeLiberto, Shelagh T.
  • Shrewsbury, Paul
  • Pierwola, Agnieszka A.
  • Werner, Scott J.
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2024
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
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European starlings are one of the most abundant and problematic avian invaders in the world. From their native range across Eurasia and North Africa, they have been introduced to every continent except Antarctica. In 160 years, starlings have expanded into different environments throughout the world, making them a powerful model for understanding rapid evolutionary change and adaptive plasticity. Here, we investigate their spatiotemporal morphological variation in North America and the native range. Our dataset includes 1,217 specimens; a combination of historical museum skins and modern birds. Beak length in the native range has remained unchanged during the past 206 years, but we find beak length in North American birds is now 8% longer than birds from the native range. We discuss potential drivers of this pattern including dietary adaptation or climatic pressures. Additionally, body size in North American starlings is smaller than those from the native range, which suggests a role for selection or founder effect. Taken together, our results indicate rapid recent evolutionary change in starling morphology coincident with invasion into novel environments.

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