Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Journal of Evolutionary Biology 26:5 (May 2013), pp. 1129–1142.

doi: 10.1111/jeb.12130


Copyright © 2013 Charles R. Brown, Mary Bomberger Brown, and Erin A. Roche. Used by permission.


The extent to which fluctuating selection can maintain evolutionary stasis in most populations remains an unresolved question in evolutionary biology. Climate has been hypothesized to drive reversals in the direction of selection among different time periods and may also be responsible for intense episodic selection caused by rare weather events. We measured viability selection associated with morphological traits in cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) in western Nebraska, USA, over a 14-year period following a rare climatic event. We used mark-recapture to estimate the annual apparent survival of over 26 000 individuals whose wing, tail, tarsus, and bill had been measured. The fitness functions associated with tarsus length and bill dimensions fluctuated depending on annual climate conditions on the birds’ breeding grounds. The oscillating yearly patterns may have slowed and occasionally reversed directional change in trait trajectories, although there was a trend over time for all traits except tarsus to increase in size. The net positive directional selection on some traits, despite periodic climate-associated fluctuations, suggests that cliff swallow morphology in the population is likely to keep changing and supports recent work contending that selection in general does not fluctuate enough to be an effective driver of stasis.