The Ecological Society of America’s George Mercer Award was presented to Brian Weeks, lead author, Benjamin Winger, senior author, and coauthors of the winning paper.

Weeks worked on the project when he was a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Winger, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and assistant curator in the Museum of Zoology. Weeks is now an assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS).

The paper, “Shared morphological consequences of global warming in North American migratory birds,” was published in Ecology Letters, December 2019.

The Mercer Award recognizes an outstanding, recently published, ecological research paper by a younger scientist (the lead author must be 40 years of age or younger at the time of publication).

“I'm absolutely thrilled that our paper is joining such a wonderful, and intimidating, collection of papers recognized by the Mercer,” said Weeks. 

Their research found that North American migratory birds have been getting smaller over the past four decades, and their wings have gotten a bit longer. Both changes appear to be responses to a warming climate. Those were the main findings from the U-M-led analysis of a dataset of some 70,000 North American migratory birds from 52 species that died when they collided with buildings in Chicago.

The study is the largest specimen-based analysis of body-size responses to recent warming, and at the time of publication it showed the most consistent large-scale responses for a diverse group of birds, Weeks said.

“Interestingly, the pattern of declining body size and increasing wing length has since been documented in other systems, including non-migratory birds in the Amazon, suggesting that the dynamics discussed in the paper may be widespread,” Winger said.

At the time of the paper’s publication, their coauthors from the Field Museum of Chicago were: David Willard, emeritus collections manager, who collected the remarkable morphological dataset over the 40-year study, Max Witynski, formerly a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) student, now humanities, education and law editor, Northwestern University, and Mary Hennen, assistant collections manager. From the U-M SEAS: Marketa Zimova, former postdoc with Weeks and Winger through SEAS Institute for Global Change Biology, now assistant professor, Appalachian State University. Aspen Ellis, (U-M B.S. Environment, SEAS 2017), former undergrad in Winger lab, now a doctoral student, University of California Santa Cruz.  

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