April
27
2016

Diet Affects the Evolution of Birds

How diet has affected the evolution of the 10,000 bird species in the world is still a mystery to evolutionary biology. A study by Daniel Kissling of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (UvA) and colleagues from the University of São Paulo and the University of Utah shows how diet preferences have influenced bird diversification over millions of years. The findings were published in Nature Communications.

Since the seminal work by Charles Darwin, it is know that dietary habits of birds can affect the evolution of species, such as the beak sizes of Galapagos finches. However, birds show an astonishing diversity of species and dietary adaptations, ranging from very small nectar-feeding hummingbirds to large carnivorous eagles. How such diverse dietary preferences ultimately lead to differences in diversification dynamics (i.e. the balance between speciation and extinction) of different birds has not yet been examined.

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April
26
2016

Marine Preserve to Help Penguins in a ‘Predictably Unpredictable’ Place

Boersma, a conservationist and professor of biology at the University of Washington, is applauding new regulations by the government of Ecuador to protect the waters around the Galapagos Islands as a marine preserve.

“It is very exciting,” said Boersma, who is a finalist for the 2016 Indianapolis Prize for her decades of penguin research and conservation efforts. “We’ve been working for years in the Galapagos, advising officials in Ecuador to protect the fish-rich waters that penguins and other species rely upon for food.”

The decree, signed March 21 by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, prohibits fishing, drilling or mining in key sections of the waters surrounding this precious archipelago — a hotspot for biodiversity made famous by Charles Darwin when he proposed natural selection as a mechanism for evolution.

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April
21
2016

Tropical Birds Develop ‘Superfast’ Wing Muscles for Mating, Not Flying

Studies in a group of tropical birds have revealed one of the fastest limb muscles on record for any animal with a backbone. The muscle, which can move the wing at more than twice the speeds required for flying, has evolved in association with extravagant courtship displays that involve rapid limb movements, according to a paper to be published in the journal eLife.

The ‘superfast’ wing movements of male red-capped and golden-crowned manakins are undetectable to the human eye, and are about six to eight times faster than the 8-hertz (Hz) speed at which a sprinter, such as Olympian athlete Usain Bolt, moves their legs through the air in a 100-metre run.

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April
18
2016

Research Reveals Trend in Bird-Shape Evolution on Islands

In groundbreaking new work, Natalie Wright, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Montana, has discovered a predictable trend in the evolution of bird shape.

Her research showing that birds on islands have evolved toward flightlessness was published April 11, 2016 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Her partners include Christopher Witt of the University of New Mexico and David Steadman of the University of Florida.

“The search for general trends in evolution of animal shape, size and color, often comes up empty,” Wright said. “Evolution tends to be unpredictable, leading toward different forms in different places. So it was gratifying to discover this trend among island birds.”

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April
13
2016

Bird’s Superfast Vision

One may expect a creature that darts around its habitat to be capable of perceiving rapid changes as well. Yet birds are famed more for their good visual acuity. Joint research by Uppsala University, Stockholm University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) now shows that, in small passerines (perching birds) in the wild, vision is considerably faster than in any other vertebrates — and more than twice as fast as ours.

In behavioural experiments, the scientists have studied the ability to resolve visual detail in time in three small wild passerine species: blue tit, collared flycatcher and pied flycatcher. This ability is the temporal resolution of eyesight, i.e. the number of changes per second an animal is capable of perceiving. It may be compared to spatial resolution (visual acuity), a measure of the number of details per degree in the field of vision.

April
7
2016

City Birds vs. Country Birds

Birds living in urban environments are smarter than birds from rural environments.

But, why do city birds have the edge over their country friends? They adapted to their urban environments enabling them to exploit new resources more favorably then their rural counterparts, say a team of all-McGill University researchers.

In a first-ever study to find clear cognitive differences in birds from urbanized compared to rural areas, the researchers report key differences in problem-solving abilities such as opening drawers to access food, and temperament (bolder) among city birds versus country.

The team tested the two groups of birds using not only associative learning tasks, but innovative problem-solving tasks. Innovativeness is considered to be useful in the “real life” of animals in the wild, more so than associative learning.

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April
4
2016

Storks Fill Up on Junk Food

White storks are addicted to junk food and make round-trips of almost 100km to get their fix — according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

In folklore, storks would carry babies to parents around the world. But since the mid 1980s, increasing numbers no longer migrate from Europe to Africa for the winter.

Instead, many live in Spain and Portugal the whole year round — feeding on ‘junk food’ from landfill sites, which provide an abundant and reliable food supply.

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March
29
2016

Migratory Birds Disperse Seeds Long Distances

Some species of plants are capable of colonising new habitats thanks to birds that transport their seeds in their plumage or digestive tract. Until recently it was known that birds could do this over short distances, but a new study shows that they are also capable of dispersing them over more than 300 kilometres.

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