Shifts in environmental conditions are thought to drive evolutionary change, but biologists have debated whether the way that animals interact with their environment also plays a part. A study of pigeons and doves suggests that changes in behaviour can drive alterations in the birds' shapes.

Oriol Lapiedra of the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications in Barcelona, Spain, and his colleagues used evolutionary models to pinpoint links between changes in behaviour and physical characteristics in 156 species of dove and pigeon (one, Caloenas nicobarica, pictured). The authors found that when some birds changed from terrestrial to tree-based foraging behaviour, this accelerated the evolution of shorter hindlimb bones and longer tails — traits that are useful in an arboreal lifestyle.


However, the demands of foraging in trees seems to limit further diversification, potentially representing an “evolutionary dead-end”, the authors say.

Proc. R. Soc. B (2013)