Love at first smell: Can birds choose mates by their odors?

 The more distantly related the parents, the fitter their offspring. Credit: Joel White

The more distantly related the parents, the fitter their offspring. Credit: Joel White

Mate choice is often the most important decision in the lives of humans and animals. Scientists at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology at the Vetmeduni Vienna have found the first evidence that birds may choose their mate through odor. The researchers compared the preen gland chemicals of black-legged kittiwakes with genes that play a role in immunity. Kittiwakes that smell similarly to each other also have similar genes for immunity. Since the birds prefer to mate with unrelated mates, the scientists have now found the likely mechanism by which they recognize relatedness. The scientists published their findings in Nature’s Scientific Reports. Continue reading

Female color perception affects evolution of male plumage in birds

 Male black-throated blue warblers (left) differ greatly in coloration from females (right). The opsin Sws2 appears to play a role in the evolution of these differences. Credit: Mdf, DickDaniels, Wikimedia Commons

Male black-throated blue warblers (left) differ greatly in coloration from females (right). The opsin Sws2 appears to play a role in the evolution of these differences. Credit: Mdf, DickDaniels, Wikimedia Commons

The expression of a gene involved in female birds’ color vision is linked to the evolution of colorful plumage in males, reports a new study from the University of Chicago. The findings, published Nov. 26 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, confirm the essential role of female color perception in mate selection and sexual dimorphism.

“This is the first time an aspect of the visual system in birds has been directly associated with plumage evolution,” said Natasha Bloch, PhD, who authored the study while a graduate student in ecology & evolution at the University of Chicago. “It tells us color perception plays an important role in the evolution of the spectacular diversity of colors we see in nature.” Continue reading

New bird species discovered in forests of Indonesia

The Sulawesi streaked flycatcher (Muscicapa sodhii). Image credit: © Martin Lindop.

The Sulawesi streaked flycatcher (Muscicapa sodhii). Image credit: © Martin Lindop.

An international group of ornithologists from the United States and Indonesia led by Dr Berton Harris of Princeton University has described a new species of flycatcher from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

The new species, named the Sulawesi streaked flycatcher (Muscicapa sodhii), has awaited formal scientific description since 1997, when it was originally spotted in a patchy remnant of forest.

At the time, the bird was thought to be the migratory Gray-streaked flycatcher (Muscicapa griseisticta).

Dr Harris and his colleagues traveled to Central Sulawesi in the summers of 2011 and 2012 to observe the bird and prove that it’s in fact a new species. Continue reading

Scratching lyrebirds create forest firebreaks

In reducing fire risk, lyrebirds protect their favoured habitat of an open forest floor, say researchers (CSIRO)

In reducing fire risk, lyrebirds protect their favoured habitat of an open forest floor, say researchers (CSIRO)

Australia’s superb lyrebird clears litter and seedlings from the forest floor, reducing the likelihood and intensity of bushfires, new research suggests.

The birds’ activity also preserves their preferred habitat of an open forest floor, says fire ecologist, Dr Steve Leonard of La Trobe University .

“They’re reducing fuel by their foraging,” he says. “Our hypothesis is that they are protecting their favoured habitat – not necessarily consciously, but there’s a feedback going on.”

Lyrebirds have powerful legs with long toes and claws that make it easy for them to rake over dead leaves and soil in the search for insects, spiders, frogs, and other small invertebrates.

“They forage like chickens,” says Leonard.

By doing this, they mix litter into the soil, helping it to decompose quicker, and reducing the fuel load on the forest floor. Seedlings can also be uprooted in this process. Continue reading

Scientists shed new light on how species diverge

 Macaws flying over the rainforest canopy at dawn. The study found that bird lineages that inhabit the forest canopy, such as these macaws, accumulate fewer species over evolutionary time than do bird lineages that inhabit the forest understory. Credit: Mike Hankey.

Macaws flying over the rainforest canopy at dawn. The study found that bird lineages that inhabit the forest canopy, such as these macaws, accumulate fewer species over evolutionary time than do bird lineages that inhabit the forest understory. Credit: Mike Hankey.

Birds that are related, such as Darwin’s finches, but that vary in beak size and behavior specially evolved to their habitat are examples of a process called speciation. It has long been thought that dramatic changes in a landscape like the formation of the Andes Mountain range or the Amazon River is the main driver that initiates species to diverge. However, a recent study shows that speciation occurred much later than these dramatic geographical changes. Researchers from LSU’s Museum of Natural Science have found that time and a species’ ability to move play greater parts in the process of speciation. This research was published today in the print edition of Nature. Continue reading

Global protection for migratory birds agreed by conservationists

 Common Cranes, such as these birds migrating north over Spain, may be more robustly protected after this week's international agreements. Photo: Antonio (commons.wikimedia.org).

Common Cranes, such as these birds migrating north over Spain, may be more robustly protected after this week’s international agreements. Photo: Antonio (commons.wikimedia.org)

Two new international agreements have been reached by conservationists to help save migratory bird species across continents.

The Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) has agreed a set of guidelines to tackle some of the causes of poisoning and ratified a ground-breaking action plan to save more than 400 bird species.

In top of this, the Poisoning Resolution to reduce and minimise poisoning of migrating birds includes a ban on veterinary diclofenac, the phasing out of all lead ammunition, and action on lethal rodenticides, insecticides and poison baits. These five groups of toxic substance were identified as the most significant poisoning risks to migratory birds and the agreement marks a milestone in ending this threat. Continue reading