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Proc Biol Sci. 2001 May 7;268(1470):947-52.

Global warming and body mass decline in Israeli passerine birds.

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Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Israel.


Global warming may affect the physiology, distributions, phenology and adaptations of plants and animals. In Israel, minimum summer temperatures increased by an average of 0.26 degrees C per decade during the second half of the 20th century. Bergmann's rule predicts that, in warm-blooded animals, races from warm regions are smaller than races from cold regions. Numerous studies have reported general correlations between body mass in fossil animals and independently established palaeoclimatic changes from various parts of the world in accordance with this rule. Using museum specimens, I tested the prediction that the body mass and tarsus length of five resident passerine species in Israel declined between 1950 and 1999. The body mass of four species (the graceful warbler Prinia gracilis, the house sparrow Passer domesticus, the yellow-vented bulbul Pycnonotus xanthopygos and the Sardinian warbler Sylvia melanocephala, but not of the crested lark Galerida cristata) declined significantly during this period. Tarsus length also declined significantly during this period for two species (the graceful warbler and the house sparrow). Body condition (body mass-to-tarsus length ratio) decreased in the Sardinian warbler, the yellow-vented bulbul and the crested lark. It is suggested that the above declines in body mass and tarsus length are due to global warming and also in accordance with Bergmann's rule. The above explanation does not exclude the possibility that other factors, such as a decrease in food availability, contributed to the decline in body mass. These declines may have serious implications for community structure and competition among bird species and may affect the survival of small passerines.

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