The study also provided some hopeful insights for birds and their ability to handle the threat of climate change. Males that panted more often during the heat challenge exhibited more limited effects on gene activity in the brain and testis.

“For a long time, researchers have reasoned that behavioral flexibility might be key for animals’ ability to handle novel environmental challenges,” added Rosvall whose lab oversaw that genomic side of the project. “We saw that some individuals better used behavioral thermoregulation to dissipate the physiological effects of heat. If animals are able to adjust their behavior or if behavior can evolve to keep pace with climate change, birds may be able to adapt.”

Understanding how birds respond to climate change remains a critical area of research. “These results have important implications for sexual selection in a warming world,” emphasized Lipshutz. “Some individuals, or even some species, may perform well under extreme temperatures, and that could influence both how thermal tolerance evolves and how behavior evolves, too."

Additional authors on the study are Clara Howell (master's student in Derryberry's lab), Aaron Buechlein (bioinformatician, IU Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics), and Douglas B. Rusch (lead bioinformatician, IU Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics).

The researchers' work was funded by U.S. National Science Foundation fellowship DBI-1907134 (to Lipshutz), IOS-2032412 (to Derryberry), and funding from IU Biology (to Rosvall).