Real-time observation of adaptive evolution in the wild is rare and limited to cases of marked, often anthropogenic, environmental change. Here we present the case of a small population of reed warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) over a period of 19 years (1996–2014) after colonizing a restored wetland habitat in Malta. Our data show a population decrease in body mass, following a trajectory consistent with a population ascending an adaptive peak, a so-called Ornstein–Uhlenbeck process. We corroborate these findings with genetic and ecological data, revealing that individual survival is correlated with body mass, and more than half of the variation in mean population fitness is explained by variation in body mass. Despite a small effective population size, an adaptive response has taken place within a decade. A founder event from a large, genetically variable source population to the southern range margin of the reed warbler distribution likely facilitated this process.
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