Australia is once again at war with the birds – but instead of trying to fight off emus in the outback, this time it’s a bit closer to home(s). The cockatoos of Sydney have taken the saying ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ to heart, and have taken to ‘dumpster diving’ in search of food. Although the challenge of keeping urban wildlife out of rubbish bins is not a uniquely ‘Australia problem’, finding a solution to thwart the brainy cockatoos is proving difficult. For every deterrent that humans come up with, the cockatoos seem to find a work-around – similar to the evolutionary arms race that we might expect between a predator and prey.
Read more: Is bin-opening in cockatoos leading to an innovation arms race with humans?
What makes this really cool is that it is essentially an ‘evolution in action’ scenario happening right in the backyards of Sydney residents! There are different strategies being deployed by both the humans (to deter the the cockatoos) and the cockatoos (to open the rubbish bins). These strategies have costs for both parties as well (how long it takes to secure the rubbish bin vs how long it takes to open) and we expect these strategies to experience different selection pressures that might lead to the selection of an optimal rubbish bin securing strategy (that is until the cockatoos work out how to thwart the humans once again).
I for one am rooting for the birds – if at minimum so that they can claim having defeated humans not once but twice!
Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.
The causes and ecological context of rapid morphological evolution in birds (2022) Crouch & Tobias, Ecology Letters, https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13962
Image credit: Andrej Chudý , CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
One of the biggest questions facing evolutionary ecologists is why some groups of organisms contain SO MANY species, while others are relatively sparse in comparison. We’ve discussed adaptive radiations on Ecology for the Masses before, which is when a burst of speciation occurs within a group, with new species adapting to fill new ecological niches. It could be that the reason for such uneven groups is that some clades, or related groups of organisms, are more prone to such adaptive radiations than others. If this is true, it would mean that such clades experience not only an increase in the number of lineages (species) that they contain, but also the number of traits they exhibit.
Increases in the speciation rate and trait evolution are the hallmarks of adaptive radiations, but they may not occur at the same time, which can lead to some different outcomes. Clades may diversify rapidly, without really evolving new traits, and this is known as a “non-adaptive radiation“. In contrast, a lineage may quickly evolve new traits without speciating, which is known as an “adaptive non-radiation“. To understand the causes and context of such evolutionary scenarios, today’s authors studied the history of bird evolution.
Fire, drought and flooding rains: The effect of climatic extremes on bird species’ responses to time since fire (2021) Connell et al., Diversity and Distributions, https://doi.org/10.1111/ddi.13287
Both bushfires and extreme climate events are capable of shaping not only habitats, but also the number of different species that inhabit them. Yet the interaction between these phenomena can be equally important. For instance, an extreme flood or drought could have a very different impacts on a forest depending on how recently that forest was burned by fire. If a fire tore through recently, an extended period of drought may finish off species already under stress, yet if there has been a longer period of time since the last fire, the ecosystem may be able to tolerate a drought.
Given that climate change is increasing the occurrence of both extreme climate events and bushfires, it’s better to start investigating the effects of these interactions sooner rather than later. This week’s authors looked at the interaction between the two phenomena in south-eastern Australia, an area whose wildlife has come under a lot of pressure recently.
Image Credit: Sumeet Moghe, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped
This article was originally posted on the Ducky blog. You can read more of my work there, including this piece on the positive effect that reducing your carbon footprint can have on the world’s biodiversity.
While there seems to be a neverending deluge of pessimism surrounding the climate change debate these days, there is plenty of cause for optimism as well. One of the biggest examples is how quickly renewable energy is growing as a power source in a vast number of countries. The International Energy Agency last year reported that by the end of 2021, renewable energy will account for almost 30% of global electricity output. In most countries, renewable energy is now cheaper than energy generated by fossil fuels.
Vulnerability of northern gannets to offshore wind farms; seasonal and sex-specific collision risk and demographic consequences (2020) Lane et al., Marine Environmental Research, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marenvres.2020.105196
A green on green conflict is what occurs when forms of renewable energy can have a potentially negative effect on the local environment. We see it in hydropower disrupting freshwater fish populations, or in the case of today’s paper, wind farms causing bird deaths. Marine shorebirds are often killed by wind turbines, yet it’s not totally clear to what extent population numbers are impacted by these deaths.
Additionally, whether wind farms are more dangerous to male or female, old or young birds could have a big impact on whether these bird deaths affect population numbers in the future. Today’s authors wanted to investigate this question, using a population of northern gannets off the coast of Scotland.
Fishiness of Piscine Birds Linked to Absence of Poisonous Fungi but not Pizza (2020) Stervander & Haelewaters, Oceanography and Fisheries, 12(5), DOI:10.19080/OFOAJ.2020.12.555850.
One of the most worrying things about the global phenomena that is climate change is that we are so uncertain of its exact effects on our planet’s biodiversity. There are the more obvious questions that need to be asked, like how will warming temperatures affect species ranges, and will cold-tolerant species face significant population losses?
Yet there are other less obvious concerns out there which need to be tested. For instance, seeing as there are far more fish-like birds in Antarctica, do colder temperatures lead to birds being more fish-like? And will a warming climate therefore lead to a world devoid of fishy birds? This week’s researchers had a different theory, and used some interesting statistical techniques to test it out. The project was inspired by a particularly memorable pizza consumed by one of the researchers, in that it looked at “fishiness, birdiness, lack of fungal toxicity, and effects of prolonged heating”*.
This month, in line with Global Citizen Science Month, we’ll have a special focus on all things citizen science. For those of you who are unaware of the concept, it’s an initiative by SciStarter and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, with support from the Citizen Science Association and National Geographic.
For those who haven’t heard the term before, citizen (or community) science is essentially an all-encompassing term for scientific research and learning that is conducted outside of traditional spheres. It can encompass anything, from your kid collecting bugs in traps in the backyard, to global apps like iNaturalist. While Caitlin will have an in-depth overview of exactly what citizen science entails next Monday, we’ll kick the month off by looking at revolutionary technology that has allowed non-scientists to participate in scientific research worldwide – social media.
Specifically Twitter. One of the most enjoyable things about Twitter’s scientific community has been the advent of SciComm games. These are (often weekly) posts by scientists from different fields, which ask fellow Twittererers to identify, find or pick apart different aspects of an ecosystem. They’re a great introduction to taxonomy and field identification, and they’re super-easy to get involved in.
So below I’ve listed (with the help of Twitter) 10 of the most fun Twitter games out there.
Image Credit: Ray Bilcliff, Pexels licence, Image Cropped
We get a lot of fun and strange search terms which lead people to Ecology for the Masses. So inspired by Captain Awkward’s segment ‘It Came From the Search Terms‘, let’s have a look at some of the weirder questions that led people to this site and see if we can provide some answers. Spelling mistakes have been corrected.
After the first edition of Ecology for the Masses’ new Stats Corner, many people requested a discussion of p-values. Ask and you shall receive! And as an added bonus, we’ll also talk about confidence intervals. (Image Credit: Patrick Kavanagh, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Much of ecological research involves making a decision. Does implementing a particular management strategy significantly increase the species diversity of a region? Is the amount of tree cover significantly associated with the number of deer? Do bigger individuals of a species tend to have longer life expectancies?
Birds like this American tree sparrow are declining rapidly, shows a study which looks at huge declines in North American bird populations (Image Credit: Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)
Decline of the North American avifauna (2019) Rosenberg et al., Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw1313
When we talk about species loss, we generally focus on extinctions. Too often, when we start to rally around a species, it’s because there are a particularly low number of that species left. In many cases, they’ve often crossed a threshold, from which it’s impossible to pull them back from the brink of extinction.
Often this draws attention away from non-threatened species. Often that’s fine – they’re non-threatened right? But downward population trajectories in these species can still damage ecosystems by lessening the impact of their ecological function, lead to local (if not total) extinctions, and of course, leading them to eventually be threatened.
This week’s authors wanted to look at bird population declines in America, but from the perspective of total abundance, as opposed to a more species-specific view.