The terroir of the finch: How spatial and temporal variation shapes phenotypic traits in Darwin's finches
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Ecology and Evolution
The term terroir is used in viticulture to emphasize how the biotic and abiotic characteristics of a local site influence grape physiology and thus the properties of wine. In ecology and evolution, such terroir (i.e., the effect of space or “site”) is expected to play an important role in shaping phenotypic traits. Just how important is the pure spatial effect of terroir (e.g., differences between sites that persist across years) in comparison to temporal variation (e.g., differences between years that persist across sites), and the interaction between space and time (e.g., differences between sites change across years)? We answer this question by analyzing beak and body traits of 4388 medium ground finches (Geospiza fortis) collected across 10 years at three locations in Galápagos. Analyses of variance indicated that phenotypic variation was mostly explained by site for beak size (η2 = 0.42) and body size (η2 = 0.43), with a smaller contribution for beak shape (η2 = 0.05) and body shape (η2 = 0.12), but still higher compared to year and site-by-year effects. As such, the effect of terroir seems to be very strong in Darwin's finches, notwithstanding the oft-emphasized interannual variation. However, these results changed dramatically when we excluded data from Daphne Major, indicating that the strong effect of terroir was mostly driven by that particular population. These phenotypic results were largely paralleled in analyses of environmental variables (rainfall and vegetation indices) expected to shape terroir in this system. These findings affirm the evolutionary importance of terroir, while also revealing its dependence on other factors, such as geographical isolation.
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Carrión, Paola L.; Raeymaekers, Joost A.M.; De León, Luis Fernando; (...); Huber, S. K.; and et al, The terroir of the finch: How spatial and temporal variation shapes phenotypic traits in Darwin's finches (2022). Ecology and Evolution, 12(10), 9399.