Scott Taylor

Climate change is allowing the rapid northward movement of a hybrid zone between two common backyard birds (black-capped and Carolina chickadees)


Animals, Climate change, Conservation, Ecology, Environmental change, Evolution, Field, Forest, Fundamental research, Gay, Hybrids, Lab, LGBTQIA+, North America, Observational, Physiological/organismal ecology, Speciation


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Note: click the gear symbol or see below for notes that accompany the presentation

Other Resources

Taylor SA, White TA, Hochachka WM, Ferretti V, Curry RL, Lovette IJ. 2014. Climate Mediated Movement of an Avian Hybrid Zone. Current Biology 24: 671-676.

Presentation Notes

Researcher’s Background

Scott is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies bird hybrid zones to understand how species are responding to rapid human-induced environmental change.

PB: Why did you become a biologist?

ST: I’ve always been fascinated by the natural world and was fortunate enough to grow up in the woods in the Great Lakes region in Canada. Becoming a biologist was a natural fit for my interests and passions.

PB: What is your favorite part about your job?

ST: That I get to ask, and attempt to answer, questions about biodiversity while spending time in the field, in the lab, and working with inspiring people.

PB: What obstacles have you overcome to get where you are?

ST: I used to think that I was inherently not good at certain topics (math, genetics, etc), which isn’t true for anyone. It took time and hard work to combat this fixed mindset and I now teach genetics and population genetics and use whole genomes to understand evolution.

PB: What advice do you have for aspiring biologists?

ST: Be curious, do not discount yourself, and take advantage of situations that get you out into the woods or other natural places. Natural history is important!

PB: Do you feel that any dimension of your identity is invisible or under-represented/marginalized in STEM?

ST: The LGBTQIA+ community is under-represented in STEM, is often invisible, and STEM students from this community have higher attrition rates than other groups of students. None of my mentors in high school, college, or as a graduate student or postdoc were visible members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and few faculty in any of those departments were out and identifiable to students. This is a problem that we need to fix by being visible members of the community, and by acting as role models for students who may be struggling to see themselves as scientists because of their identity.

Research Overview

Take home message of study

Rapid northward movement of a hybrid zone between two species of chickadee was documented using genetic samples that span a decade. The position of the hybrid zone is perfectly predicted by a model that includes minimum winter temperature, and warming temperatures predict the location of the contact zone after a decade.

Study system

Panel A shows the study species, black-capped (Poecile atricapillus) and Carolina (P. carolinensis). Panel B Shows eBird data for each species in eastern North America with the contact zone highlighted in yellow and the sampling region surrounded by a red box. Panel C shows the sampling transect in eastern Pennsylvania with sample sizes in each time period (2002/2012).

Key Research Points

Key figure

Panel A shows the distribution of black-capped (Poecile atricapillus) and Carolina (P. carolinensis) in North America. The hybrid zone between the two species is indicated in yellow, and the sampling transect in Pennsylvania is indicated by a blue star. Panel B shows changes in allele frequencies from south to north, with the arrows highlighting the position of the hybrid zone in 2002 (grey) and 2012 (black). Panel C shows the genetic composition of the sampled populations in 2002 and 2012, highlighting that NF and HM contain more Carolina chickadees in 2012 than they did in 2002.


Societal Relevance

Because birds can fly they have the ability to quickly respond to changes in the environment. Over a very short time period this research has documented significant ranges shifts for two common backyard birds in response to warming winters. Unlike birds, many organisms (e.g., salamanders, frogs, trees, and many insects) cannot move long distances to respond quickly to environmental change like warming winters, but will be experiencing these changes. This has implications for conservation and the design and connection of protected areas and for our general understanding of the way species will respond to rapid environmental change.

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