Great Tits Can Handle Climate Change: Songbirds More Resilient Than Expected

Songbirds are more resilient than we thought. New research reveals that a bird called the great tit can handle climate change far better than expected. (Photo : Flickr/Kev Chapman)

Songbirds are more resilient than we thought. New research reveals that a bird called the great tit can handle climate change far better than expected. (Photo : Flickr/Kev Chapman)

As the climate changes, species are shifting across the surface of our planet. Migration patterns are changing, breeding seasons are beginning earlier and animals are moving northward. With all of this happening, you’d think that birds would be drastically affected in a negative way. Yet new research has shown that, surprisingly, songbird populations can handle far more disrupting climate change than expected.

Spring may have started late this year, but the general trend shows an earlier spring for the last four decades. Because of this earlier spring, the seasonal timing of trees and insects also advances. Yet while trees and insects advance, songbird species such as the Parus major, also known as the great tit, lag behind.

In order to see how these seasonal changes affect songbird populations, researchers examined the great tit populations using almost 40 years of data from the songbird. More specifically, they looked at the great tit population in the Dutch National Park.

Their findings, unfortunately, didn’t seem to bode well for the birds at first. “It’s a real paradox,” said Tom Reed and Marcel Visser of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in a news release. “Due to the changing climate of the past decades, the egg laying dates of Parus major have become increasingly mismatched with the timing of the main food sources for its chicks: caterpillars.”

In fact, it turns out the seasonal timing of the food peak has advanced over twice as fast as that of the birds. This means that while the caterpillars are showing up earlier with the earlier spring, the birds haven’t quite caught up yet which, in turn, means less food for the chicks.

Despite this fact, though, population numbers don’t seem to be down that much. Upon further examination of the data, the researchers found out why. Although fewer offspring now fledge due to a food shortage, it turns out the ones that do fledge have a higher chance of survival until the next breeding season. This offsets the current feeding issue.

“We call this relaxed competition, as there are fewer fledglings to compete with,” said Reed in a news release. “It all seems so obvious once you’ve calculated this, but people were almost sure that mistiming would lead to a direct population decline.”

In fact, some of the songbirds are benefiting from the earlier springs. Some of the great tits that lay their eggs earlier in the spring are more successful than the ones that lay latter and which produce relatively few surviving offspring. This, in turn, leads to increasing selection for birds that reproduce early.

While numbers aren’t being affected yet, though, researchers estimate that they probably will be in the future. The mismatch between egg laying and caterpillar peak continues to grow, which means that the impact of the phenomenon will also increase. While birds may be able to compensate for now, the future may cause a drop in population numbers.

source:scienceworldreport.com

America’s ‘Biggest Week’ all about bird migration

Thousands of birding enthusiasts will flock to Northwest Ohio on May 3-12 for the fourth annual The Biggest Week in American Birding event.

The three previous Biggest Week events drew more people than the one before it, and this year’s festival will draw birders not only nationally but from such countries as Panama, Ecuador, Guatemala, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and China.

Early Birds - One week before "The Biggest Week" Dennis Hills of Ottawa, Odelia Leow of Maumee, Mark & Joanie Hubinger of Au Train, MI, and Harry Nieman of Cincinnati zoom in to identify a  warbler in the brush as Magee Marsh. (Press photo by Stephanie Szozda)

One week before “The Biggest Week” Dennis Hills of Ottawa, Odelia Leow of Maumee, Mark & Joanie Hubinger of Au Train, MI, and Harry Nieman of Cincinnati zoom in to identify a warbler in the brush as Magee Marsh. (Press photo by Stephanie Szozda)

Kim Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor, said that’s no accident. “We have put tremendous effort into marketing this area and using a lot of partnerships, like Birds and Bloom magazine, BirdWatching magazine, Bird Watcher’s Digest and Audubon Magazine,” she said. “Last year, we were featured in Spirit Magazine, which is the in-flight magazine for Southwest Airlines.

Den“Nationally and internationally, this festival is becoming one of the top birding festivals in the country. Certainly, word of mouth is a component, but out (BSBO) marketing effort has been reaching a lot of people. We’re including a strong tourism component into our mission.”

Kaufman said this year’s theme is “Birding Is For Everyone,” and the event will again include birding workshops and bus trips to various birding locations in Ohio and Michigan.

“We had just under 64,000 people here between the end of April and the middle of May last year,” Kaufman said. “I expect that number to continue to increase every year, because it has been. Our marketing efforts are reaching more and more people.

“Black Swamp added the new website (biggestweekinamericanbirding.com) this year. We wanted something fresh and new. We’re adding new events and activities that outgrew the reach of the old website. This allows the new website to be treated almost like a blog, where we can add content in a much more fluid way.”

The festival headquarters will be Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, but there will be a lot going on at BSBO, Kaufman said.

“Bus trips are taking people into four counties – Lucas, Ottawa, Erie and Sandusky,” she said.

“We’re also running some trips into Michigan this year, to Point Mouillee State Game Area in Monroe County. All of our bus trips leave out of Maumee Bay and go out to birding areas. Point Mouillee has always been really good for shorebirds and waterfowl. It’s an interesting place and not that far to take people.”

The goal of each The Biggest Week festival is to raise awareness and appreciation for birds and habitat conservation. In 2012, The Biggest Week helped raise more than $25,000 for local bird research, education and conservation in Northwest Ohio. The festival also raised funds to purchase 200 copies of Guia de campo a las aves de Norteamerica, Spanish-language bird guide that serves as a valuable tool for diversity outreach programs in the desert Southwest and northern Mexico.

Proceeds from the 2012 Biggest Week also provided funding to help build a new shorebird viewing platform on the Boss Unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and continued development of the new Crane Creek Estuary Trail near the Magee Marsh Boardwalk.

Hundreds of different kinds of birds will be on display during The Biggest Week, but the “stars” of the annual spring get-together in this part of the state are the warblers.

“This is one of the best places in the world to see so many warblers in one place,” Kaufman said. “Last year birders saw 222 (bird) species, including 37 warbler species.”

Kaufman added that BSBO is “really pumping up our efforts” to get local people to come out and try birding. Several workshops have been set up to teach people about bird watching.

“This festival is so unique,” she said. “We get birders from all ages, all walks of life. This is a massive influx of people and birds coming together in Northwest Ohio. We’re doing some Urban Bird Walks with Toledo Metroparks. We’ll visit Toledo Metroparks and try to get people out birding.”

The Metroparks walks are scheduled to be led by two African-American birders, Doug Gray and Dr. Drew Lanham. They are working to encourage people of color to go birding and will host speaking engagements and Urban Birding Walks during The Biggest Week.

Kaufman stressed that, yes, The Biggest Week in American Birding is about birds and bird watching, but there is a more all-consuming effort each year the festival is held here.

“We want people to come here and have a good time, “Kaufman said. “It’s such a huge economic boost for the region, but we hope it helps people become much more invested in protecting the habitat that brings the birds here. If we don’t conserve the habitat, the birds aren’t going to come and the birders aren’t going to come.”

source:presspublications.com

Turtles Share Evolutionary Origins With Birds, Crocodiles, Study Finds

 Turtle and chicken body plan during development. (Photo : Image courtesy of RIKEN)


Turtle and chicken body plan during development. (Photo : Image courtesy of RIKEN)

Turtles do not belong to a primitive group of reptiles, but to a sister group of birds, crocodiles and extinct dinosaurs, according to the International Turtle Genome Consortium’s recently released report.

Based on a study of genomic information, the researchers predict that turtles must have split from this group around 250 million years ago, during the great extinction event.

“Turtles are interesting because they offer an exceptional case to understand the big evolutionary changes that occurred in vertebrate history,” said Dr. Naoki Irie, from Japan’s RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, who led the study. “We expect that this research will motivate further work to elucidate the possible causal connection between these events,” said Irie.

Using next-generation DNA sequencers, Irie and colleagues decoded the genome of the green sea turtle and Chinese soft-shell turtle and studied the expression of genetic information in the developing turtle.

Their results show that turtles are not primitive reptiles as previously thought, but are related to the group comprising birds and crocodiles, which also includes extinct dinosaurs, according to a release from the RIKEN center.

The research also unveiled that turtles follow a basic embryonic development pattern, despite their unique anatomy.

Rather than developing directly into a turtle-specific body shape with a shell, the gene sequencing shows that turtles first establish the vertebrates’ basic body plan and then enter a turtle-specific development phase. During this late specialization phase, the group found traces of limb-related gene expression in the embryonic shell, which indicates that the turtle shell evolved by recruiting part of the genetic program used for the limbs.

“The work not only provides insight into how turtles evolved, but also gives hints as to how the vertebrate developmental programs can be changed to produce major evolutionary novelties.” said Irie.

The genomic sequence also showed that turtles must have an extraordinary sense of smell due to more than 1,000 olfactory receptors in the soft-shell turtle, which the center reports is one of the largest numbers to be found in a non-mammalian vertebrate.

The study is published in Nature Genetics.

source:natureworldnews.com

Bird Navigation – Great Balls of Iron

cells from the inner ear of pigeons stained with a chemical that turns iron bright blue in color

cells from the inner ear of pigeons stained with a chemical that turns iron bright blue in color

Every year millions of birds make heroic migratory journeys guided by the Earth’s magnetic field. How they detect magnetic fields has puzzled scientists for decades. A combined effort between the Keays’ lab at the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna and researchers at the Australian Microscopy & Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF) at the University of Western Australia has added some important pieces to this puzzle. Continue reading

Chile’s Humboldt penguins under threat of extinction

Humboldt penguins remain at the zoo in Santiago, on April 4, 2013. Several dozen Humboldt penguins sun themselves along the coast of an islet in central Chile where the majestic birds coming here to nest once numbered in the thousands.

Humboldt penguins remain at the zoo in Santiago, on April 4, 2013. Several dozen Humboldt penguins sun themselves along the coast of an islet in central Chile where the majestic birds coming here to nest once numbered in the thousands.

Several dozen Humboldt penguins sun themselves along the coast of an islet in central Chile where the majestic birds coming here to nest once numbered in the thousands.
Humboldt penguins—which nest only in parts of Chile and Peru—over the years have become decimated by human encroachment, rat infestations and unforgiving weather currents carried by unusually warm El Nino ocean temperatures, naturalists said.

The Pajaro Nino islet, spread across a narrow channel of water from the popular resort area of Algarrobo, once drew about 2,000 of the birds during nesting season.

Today only about 500 of the birds come to this area some 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Santiago.

“This area used to be completely filled with penguins and birds, but over time, their numbers have diminished,” said Ruben Rojas, a local fisherman.

There are various varieties of penguins that inhabit Chile, but the largest colonies of Humboldt can be found in the northern part of the country. The birds are identifiable by the distinctive black bands across their chests.

Experts have expressed alarm over the rapidly vanishing penguins. The once plentiful species is classified in Chile as “vulnerable,” while in Peru, the birds have been labeled “endangered.”

Alejandro Simeone, director of the Department of Ecology and Biodiversity at Andres Bello University, told AFP that there are currently fewer than 50,000 Humboldt penguins left in Chile and Peru.

“A multitude of factors threaten a species that is highly diminished relative to what once existed,” Simeone said.
The beginning of their demise dates back to 1978, when the island, which is also a nature sanctuary, was joined to the mainland by a cement fill-in—a breakwater designed to protect the yachts of millionaire sailing enthusiasts.

It created in effect a 150-meter (500-foot) bridge connecting the mainland to the island, and local residents say they have seen the detrimental impact of its construction on animal and plant life.

Humboldt penguins remain at the Pajaro Nino island, in Algarrobo seaside resort, some 120 km west of Santiago, on March 6, 2013. Several dozen Humboldt penguins sun themselves along the coast of an islet in central Chile where the majestic birds coming here to nest once numbered in the thousands.

Humboldt penguins remain at the Pajaro Nino island, in Algarrobo seaside resort, some 120 km west of Santiago, on March 6, 2013. Several dozen Humboldt penguins sun themselves along the coast of an islet in central Chile where the majestic birds coming here to nest once numbered in the thousands.

Yachters have been accused of trying to rid the region of the birds, and video footage has surfaced showing some deliberately—and illegally—destroying penguin eggs to prevent new broods.

Rojas said the yachters don’t like the excrement left behind by the birds. “They say it makes the island stink,” he explained.

Prosecutors say they are investigating the alleged destruction of the penguins’ eggs.

Part of the blame for the birds’ gradual disappearance goes to fishermen’s nets that ensnare hundreds of the birds each year.

A measure of blame also goes to the El Nino weather phenomenon and the warm water current it carries.

The frigid Humboldt current, which gives the penguin species its name, carries the ‘ favorite foods, like anchovies and sardines.

El Nino currents, however, “warm the waters, making it hard for the penguins to find the fish that make up their usual diet,” said Guillermo Cubillos of the Santiago National Zoo.

If the El Nino warming of the waters occurs during breeding season, many of the eggs or young die of cold and hunger, because their parents are delayed or even fail to return with food.

Rats also are seen as a major culprit. The cement breakwater that connects the islet to the mainland also has given free access to rodents, which feast on the vulnerable eggs and hatchlings of the nesting penguins.

A 2012 study found that almost half of all penguin eggs on the island were devoured, primarily by rodents, within the first 12 hours of breeding period.

source:phys.org

Research sheds light on how patterns form in bird feathers

Feathers exhibit complex pigment patterns and can be a great model to learn how morphogenesis patterns stem cells into organized tissues. Lin et al. identify feather follicle melanocyte progenitors and demonstrate how complex patterns can emerge from multi-dimensional modulations of simple regulatory mechanisms. Feathers shown are from Silver Laced Wyandotte, Barred Rock, and Guineafowl (from left to right). Credit: Ting Xin Jiang. Figure design: Randall B Widelitz

Feathers exhibit complex pigment patterns and can be a great model to learn how morphogenesis patterns stem cells into organized tissues. Lin et al. identify feather follicle melanocyte progenitors and demonstrate how complex patterns can emerge from multi-dimensional modulations of simple regulatory mechanisms. Feathers shown are from Silver Laced Wyandotte, Barred Rock, and Guineafowl (from left to right). Credit: Ting Xin Jiang. Figure design: Randall B Widelitz

A new study by scientists in the U.S. and Taiwan has shown that birds have colorful and patterned feathers because of specific cellular interactions involving stem cells rather than through the direct involvement of encoding in DNA.

Until now the patterning of pigmentation in bird feathers has been poorly understood, but the patterns and colors are known to be important for attracting mates, protecting from predators, and they also affect bird behavior and can exhibit seasonal variations. The new study found that the complex patterns formed by the pigments in the feather follicles were the result of several distinct mechanisms, including changes in melanocyte formation.

The research team found that the first important process was the production of melanocytes, which are also found in hair, where they produce the pigment melanin. In hair, melanocyte stem cells (McSCs) are found in the follicle bulge at the base of the follicle. The new research found melanocyte progenitor stem cells in a ring in the proximal follicle, and showed that the melanocytes distribute upwards into the epithelial cylinder of the feather as it grows. The different patterns in each feather are determined by the arrangement and differentiation of pigmented and apigmented melanocytes. They found the melanocyte distribution could differ from the front to the back of the feather, and from the center to the outer edge. The patterns and colors could also change over time as the feather grew.

The research team, led by Dr. C.M. Chuong of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and the National Taiwan University, looked at the processes involved in pigment formation in several species of birds, including chickens. They first mapped the progenitor cells in regenerating feather follicles, and found that during the growth phase the progenitors gave rise to both pigmented and apigmented melanocytes. During the resting phase the progenitor cells were quiescent.

source:phys.org