Testing the matching habitat choice hypothesis in nature: phenotype-environment correlation and fitness in a songbird population

Abstract

The matching habitat choice hypothesis holds that individuals with different phenotypes actively select the habitats to which they are best adapted, hence maximizing fitness. Despite the potential implications of matching habitat choice for many ecological and evolutionary processes, very few studies have tested its predictions. Here, we use a 26-year dataset on a spatially structured population of pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) to test whether phenotype-dependent dispersal and habitat selection translate into increased fitness, as measured by recruitment success. In our study system, males at the extremes of the body size range segregate into deciduous and coniferous forests through nonrandom dispersal. According to the matching habitat choice hypothesis, fitness of large-sized males is expected to be higher in the deciduous habitat, where they preferentially settle to breed, while the reverse would be true for small-sized males, which are more frequent in the coniferous forest. Our results showed that recruitment success in the coniferous forest increased non-linearly with body size, with males at the middle of the size range having higher fitness than both large and small-sized males. However, no clear trend was observed in the deciduous forest where males of either size had similar fitness. After empirically discarding other important processes potentially confounding matching habitat choice, as genotype- and body condition-dependent dispersal, competitive exclusion remains the most likely force shaping the nonrandom distribution of male pied flycatchers. A conclusive demonstration of the operation and occurrence of matching habitat choice in nature remains therefore to be done.

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Acknowledgments

We thank María Cuenca, Óscar Frías, Alba Ruiz and Inés Valencia for their assistance with fieldwork, Pim Edelaar for discussions, and three anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on earlier drafts. C.C. received financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, through the Severo Ochoa Programme for Centres of Excellence in R&D&I (SEV-2012-0262). D.C. was supported by project CGL2009-10652. Since 1987, J.P.’s work has been funded by the Spanish Governments, most recently by projects CGL2011-29694, CGL2012-35232 and CGL2014-55969-P.

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Correspondence to Carlos Camacho.

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Camacho, C., Canal, D. & Potti, J. Testing the matching habitat choice hypothesis in nature: phenotype-environment correlation and fitness in a songbird population. Evol Ecol 29, 873–886 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10682-015-9793-4

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Keywords

  • Body size
  • Ficedula hypoleuca
  • Local adaptation
  • Nonrandom dispersal
  • Population divergence