[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The role of olfaction in birds is poorly understood, in part due to our limited knowledge of signal transmission mechanisms. Here we evaluate the hypothesis that the uropygial gland secretions serve as olfactory signals in birds by testing the prediction that size of the olfactory bulb, a proxy for olfactory ability, covaries positively with size of the uropygial gland tuft, a circlet of feathers with an extraordinarily size diversity that many birds present, across species. The function of the uropygial gland tuft has remained a mystery, but mechanical or protective roles are unlikely on the basis that these feathers are downy and always saturated with gland secretion. These observations instead suggest that the tuft may be involved in trapping the compounds produced by uropygial gland secretions to facilitate the odor perception of conspecifics. We therefore predicted that the uropygial gland tuft should be more developed in birds with better capacity to smell. Using a dataset of 29 species of birds from 20 families of non-passerines, we show that tuft size (relative to uropygial gland size) and olfactory bulb size (relative to cerebral hemisphere size and body mass) are positively correlated after controlling for the confounding effects of breeding coloniality and phylogeny. This suggests that the uropygial gland tuft may have evolved because of the adaptive benefits of enhancing the transmission of body odors. Additionally, colonial species have larger tufts than solitary species, as expected because sociality increases encounter rates and the prevalence of odor-producing bacteria.
The Condor 11/2013; 115(4):693-699. · 1.37 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The effects of radioactive contamination on the phenotype of free-living organisms are poorly understood, mainly because of the difficulty of capturing the large numbers of individual specimens that are required to quantify rare events such as albinism and tumour formation. We hypothesized that the frequency of abnormalities like albinism and the frequency of radiation-induced diseases like cancer would increase with the level of background radiation, that the two markers of radiation would be positively correlated, and that the reduction in abundance of animals would be greater in species with a higher frequency of albinism and tumour formation, if these markers reliably reflected poor viability. Here we analyzed the frequency of albinistic feathers and tumours in a sample of 1669 birds captured during 2010-2012 at eight sites around Chernobyl that varied in level of background radiation from 0.02 to more than 200μSv/h. We recorded 111 cases of partial albinism and 25 cases of tumour formation. Nominal logistic models were used to partition the variance into components due to species and background radiation. Radiation was a strong predictor of the two markers in birds, with a small, but significant effect of species for albinism. The slope of the relationship between abundance and radiation in different bird species was significantly inversely correlated with the frequency of albinism and tumours, as was to be expected if a common underlying cause (i.e. radiation) affects both variables. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that background radiation is a cause of albinism and tumours, that albinism and tumours are biomarkers of radiation exposure, and that high frequencies of albinism and tumours were present despite the low viability of birds with these conditions.
Mutation Research/Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis 07/2013; · 3.90 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Tree growth has been hypothesized to provide a reliable indicator of the state of the external environment. Elevated levels of background ionizing radiation may impair growth trajectories of trees by reducing the annual growth. Such effects of radiation may depend on the individual phenotype and interact with other environmental factors such as temperature and drought. We used standardized growth rates of 105 Scots pine Pinus sylvestris located near Chernobyl, Ukraine, varying in the level of background radiation by almost a factor 700. Mean growth rate was severely depressed and more variable in 1987–1989 and several other subsequent years, following the nuclear accident in April 1986 compared to the situation before 1986. The higher frequency of years with poor growth after 1986 was not caused by elevated temperature, drought or their interactions with background radiation. Elevated temperatures suppressed individual growth rates in particular years. Finally, the negative effects of radioactive contaminants were particularly pronounced in smaller trees. These findings suggest that radiation has suppressed growth rates of pines in Chernobyl, and that radiation interacts with other environmental factors and phenotypic traits of plants to influence their growth trajectories in complex ways.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Climate is currently changing at an unprecedented rate; so also human exploitation is rapidly changing the Earth for agriculture, forestry, fisheries and urbanization. In addition, pollution has affected even the most remote ecosystems, as has the omnipresence of humans, with consequences in particular for animals that keep a safe distance from potential predators, including human beings. Importantly, all of these changes are occurring simultaneously, with increasing intensity, and further deterioration in both the short and the long-term is predicted. While the consequences of these components of global change are relatively well studied on their own, the effects of their interactions, such as the combined effects of climate change and agriculture, or the combined effects of agriculture through nutrient leakage to freshwater and marine ecosystems and fisheries, and the effects of climate change and urbanization, are poorly understood. Here, I provide a brief overview of the effects of climate change on phenology, diversity, abundance, interspecific interactions and population dynamics of birds. I address whether these effects of changing temperatures are direct, or indirect through effects of climate change on the phenology, distribution or abundance of food, parasites and predators. Finally, I review interactions between different components of global change.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: All animals flee from potential predators, and the distance at which this happens is optimized so the benefits from staying are balanced against the costs of flight. Because predator diversity and abundance decreases with increasing latitude, and differs between rural and urban areas, we should expect escape distance when a predator approached the individual to decrease with latitude and depend on urbanization. We measured the distance at which individual birds fled (flight initiation distance, FID, which represents a reliable and previously validated surrogate measure of response to predation risk) following a standardized protocol in nine pairs of rural and urban sites along a ca. 3000 km gradient from Southern Spain to Northern Finland during the breeding seasons 2009–2010. Raptor abundance was estimated by means of standard point counts at the same sites where FID information was recorded. Data on body mass and phylogenetic relationships among bird species sampled were extracted from the literature. An analysis of 12,495 flight distances of 714 populations of 159 species showed that mean FID decreased with increasing latitude after accounting for body size and phylogenetic effects. This decrease was paralleled by a similar cline in an index of the abundance of raptors. Urban populations had consistently shorter FIDs, supporting previous findings. The difference between rural and urban habitats decreased with increasing latitude, also paralleling raptor abundance trends. Overall, the latitudinal gradient in bird fear was explained by raptor abundance gradients, with additional small effects of latitude and intermediate effects of habitat. This study provides the first empirical documentation of a latitudinal trend in anti-predator behavior, which correlated positively with a similar trend in the abundance of predators.
PLoS ONE 05/2013; 8(5):e64634. · 3.73 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: How do potential hosts escape detrimental interactions with brood parasites? Current consensus is that hole-nesting and granivorous birds avoid brood parasites, like common cuckoos Cuculus canorus, by their inaccessible nest-sites and food unsuitable for parasites, respectively. Any open-nesting insectivorous hosts are believed to remain open to brood parasite exploitation which leads to the evolution of costly host defences like egg or chick discrimination. In contrast to this coevolutionary scenario, we show for the first time that a previously not studied but seemingly suitable host species escapes brood parasites. The Asian verditer flycatcher Eumyias thalassinus, feed newly hatched chicks entirely with beetles and grasshoppers. These are poor quality and hard to digest diet items that are rarely fed to own or cuckoo chicks by regular hosts. Indeed, chick cross-fostering experiments showed that these food items remained undigested by either cuckoos or other sympatric passerines causing them to die quickly. Egg discrimination experiments showed that the flycatcher accepts any foreign eggs. Although most but not all other potential explanations can be safely excluded at present, the most parsimonious historical explanation for these patterns is that the flycatcher exploits a trophic niche that no other sympatric bird can exploit, and that any cuckoo lineages that switch from their original hosts to the flycatcher have no possibilities for establishing viable populations. Thus, the current classification of host suitability based on diet composition may need revision, raising an important cautionary tale for comparative studies and the interpretation of apparent host rejection of parasitic chicks.
Journal of Avian Biology 05/2013; 44:216-220. · 2.02 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Flight initiation distance (FID) is the distance at which an individual animal takes flight when approached by a human. This behavioural measure of risk-taking reflects the risk of being captured by real predators, and it correlates with a range of life history traits, as expected if flight distance optimizes risk of predation. Given that FID provides information on risk of predation, we should expect that physiological and morphological mechanisms that facilitate flight and escape predict interspecific variation in flight distance. Haematocrit is a measure of packed red blood cell volume and as such indicates the oxygen transport ability and hence the flight muscle contracting reaction of an individual. Therefore, we predicted that species with short flight distances, that allow close proximity between a potential prey individual and a predator, would have high haematocrit. Furthermore, we predicted that species with large wing areas and hence relatively low costs of flight and species with large aspect ratios and hence high manoeuvrability would have evolved long flight speed. Consistent with these predictions, we found in a sample of 63 species of birds that species with long flight distances for their body size had low levels of haematocrit and large wing areas and aspect ratios. These findings provide evidence consistent with the evolution of risk-taking behaviour being underpinned by physiological and morphological mechanisms that facilitate escape from predators and add to our understanding of predator-prey coevolution.
Journal of Evolutionary Biology 04/2013; 26:1143-1150. · 3.48 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Abstract Higher vertebrates synthesize two forms of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. While the adaptive functions of eumelanin are diverse, those of pheomelanin, which is phototoxic and whose production consumes a key intracellular antioxidant (glutathione), are not clear apart from being involved in color patterns that confer concealment. The factors that have favored the evolution of pheomelanin thus remain a mystery, causing this pigment even to have been considered an "accident of nature." A recent hypothesis posits that pheomelanin has evolved because it represents an alternative mechanism to remove excess dietary cysteine, which can be toxic because of its oxidation. We tested for links between pheomelanin-based color and survival in both an intraspecific study of barn swallows Hirundo rustica and an interspecific study of 58 species of birds from North and Central America. As predicted on the basis that birds degrade excess dietary amino acids by transferring their amino group to uric acid synthesis, we found that under equal levels of uric acid in plasma, individuals or species with a higher intensity or greater proportion of plumage colored by pheomelanin (brown and chestnut coloration) had higher relative annual survival rates while controlling for the potentially confounding effects of age, sex, body size, and phylogenetic descent. Likewise, barn swallows with more intense pheomelanin-based coloration had higher prospects to survive the winter after controlling statistically for age, sex, body size, and level of uric acid. This supports the idea that pheomelanic traits evolve because of the removal of excess cysteine in nonstressful conditions, thus avoiding its toxic effects.
Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 03/2013; 86(2):184-92. · 2.46 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Predator-prey and host-parasite interactions and mutualisms are common and may have profound effects on ecosystems. Here we analyze the parasitic and mutualistic associations between three groups of organisms: the plant Artemisia maritima, bacteria, and a colonial seabird (the sandwich tern Sterna sandvicensis) that breeds in dense colonies covered in feces produced by both adults and chicks. A disproportionately large fraction of colonies of the sandwich tern in Denmark were located in patches covered by A. maritima. This association was specific for the densely colonial sandwich tern, but was not present for four other sympatric species of terns that breed in much less dense colonies. A. maritima reduced the abundance of pathogenic Staphylococcus on chicken eggshells in a field experiment. Recruitment by sandwich terns breeding in patches of A. maritima was 18 % higher than for sandwich terns breeding in the absence of A. maritima. A. maritima benefitted from the association with sandwich terns due to the supply of nutrients from feces and uneaten food lost by young. These findings are consistent with sandwich terns exploiting the association with A. maritima and its antimicrobial properties to improve their reproductive success, while sandwich terns and A. maritima are involved in a mutualistic interaction.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: a b s t r a c t Radioactive contamination can negatively affect the abundance of living beings through the radiation and chemical toxic effects of radionuclides or the effects of mutation accumulation over time. If radiotoxic effects were the main determinant of the abundance of organisms, we should expect a reduction in abundance immediately following radioactive contamination, while we should expect a gradual increase in negative effects over time if mutation accumulation was the main determinant. In particular, we should expect the main effects at the recently contaminated site in Fukushima to mainly be due to radiotoxicity, while effects at Chernobyl which has been contaminated since 1986 should be a mixture of radiotoxic and mutation accumulation effects. We censused spiders, grasshoppers, dragonflies, butterflies, bumblebees, cicadas and birds at 1198 sites in Chernobyl and Fukushima-Daiichi, where major nuclear accidents happened 25 years and 6 months ago, respectively. The mean level of radiation was higher and less variable at Fukushima than at Chernobyl, implying that we should expect more negative effects on the abundance of animals at Fukushima if immediate effects of radiation were important. While all taxa showed significant declines in abundance with increasing level of background radiation in Chernobyl, only three out of seven taxa showed such an effect at Fukushima. The effect of radiation on abundance differed between the two areas for butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers and spiders, but not for birds or bumblebees. These findings are consistent with the main effects of radiation on the abundance of animals at Fukushima being due to radiotoxicity while those at Chernobyl may be due to a mixture of radiotoxicity and mutation accumulation, because chronic exposure have been present for many generations thereby allowing for accumulation of mutations.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Radiation cataracts develop as a consequence of the effects of ionizing radiation on the development of the lens of the eye with an opaque lens reducing or eliminating the ability to see. Therefore, we would expect cataracts to be associated with reduced fitness in free-living animals.
We investigated the incidence of lens opacities typical of cataracts in more than 1100 free-living birds in the Chernobyl region in relation to background radiation. The incidence of cataracts increased with level of background radiation both in analyses based on a dichotomous score and in analyses of continuous scores of intensity of cataracts. The odds ratio per unit change in the regressor was 0.722 (95% CI 0.648, 0.804), which was less than odds ratios from investigations of radiation cataracts in humans. The relatively small odds ratio may be due to increased mortality in birds with cataracts. We found a stronger negative relationship between bird abundance and background radiation when the frequency of cataracts was higher, but also a direct effect of radiation on abundance, suggesting that radiation indirectly affects abundance negatively through an increase in the frequency of cataracts in bird populations, but also through direct effects of radiation on other diseases, food abundance and interactions with other species. There was no increase in incidence of cataracts with increasing age, suggesting that yearlings and older individuals were similarly affected as is typical of radiation cataract.
These findings suggest that cataracts are an under-estimated cause of morbidity in free-living birds and, by inference, other vertebrates in areas contaminated with radioactive materials.
PLoS ONE 01/2013; 8(7):e66939. · 3.73 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: All animals flee from potential predators, and the distance at which this happens is optimized so the benefits from staying are balanced against the costs of flight. Because predator diversity and abundance decreases with increasing latitude, and differs between rural and urban areas, we should expect escape distance when a predator approached the individual to decrease with latitude and depend on urbanization. We measured the distance at which individual birds fled (flight initiation distance, FID, which represents a reliable and previously validated surrogate measure of response to predation risk) following a standardized protocol in nine pairs of rural and urban sites along a ca. 3000 km gradient from Southern Spain to Northern Finland during the breeding seasons 2009-2010. Raptor abundance was estimated by means of standard point counts at the same sites where FID information was recorded. Data on body mass and phylogenetic relationships among bird species sampled were extracted from the literature. An analysis of 12,495 flight distances of 714 populations of 159 species showed that mean FID decreased with increasing latitude after accounting for body size and phylogenetic effects. This decrease was paralleled by a similar cline in an index of the abundance of raptors. Urban populations had consistently shorter FIDs, supporting previous findings. The difference between rural and urban habitats decreased with increasing latitude, also paralleling raptor abundance trends. Overall, the latitudinal gradient in bird fear was explained by raptor abundance gradients, with additional small effects of latitude and intermediate effects of habitat. This study provides the first empirical documentation of a latitudinal trend in anti-predator behavior, which correlated positively with a similar trend in the abundance of predators.
PLoS ONE 01/2013; 8(5):e64634. · 3.73 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Recent nuclear accidents have prompted renewed interest in the fitness consequences of low-dose radiation. Hiyama et al. provided information on such effects in the Japanese pale grass blue butterfly in a paper that has been viewed more than 300,000 times, prompting a barrage of criticism. These exchanges highlight the role of scrutiny in studies with potential effects on humans, but also raise questions about minimum requirements for demonstrating biological effects.