Tag Archives: birds

Attention Drabber

Aaah yes the tropics. The lands of white beaches, palm trees swaying gently in the breeze and exotic animals flitting among the treetrops. Though this image of the tropics may be coloured by the rose tinted glasses of many a tourist posctard, one thing might be true – the tropics are host to a slightly more colourful chunk of global biodiversity. Early naturalists such as Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humbolt were quick to note that the tropical species tend to be more colourful than their temperate counterparts. That being said, no one has been able to sit down and prove this rule of latitudinal colourfullness (more colourful species at lower latitudes) – until now.

A team of researchers has finally been able to quantify colourfulness in passerine bird species and indeed there is a strong latitudinal gradient for both sexes! This is pretty cool since it means that not only are males more colourful but so are the females (who are often more drab in colour than males of the same species). Although the reason for this colourfulness gradient is still unclear, it is pretty neat that researchers have taken a step towards seeing if this rule exists – although if this rule still holds for other species such as insects is a whole other question!

Read more: Latitudinal gradients in avian colourfulness


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.

Mainstream

Bird and whale song are a way for males to attract members of the opposite sex, and (as the variety of bird calls you might hear out in the garden indicates) these songs vary between species. Similar to how people can have different tastes in music, there is also variation in the the style of the songs between individuals of the same species. This can lead to ‘cultural revolutions’ where some individuals can influence and change the mating calls of the other individuals in the population if they want to stay relevant.

This poses an interesting question of if and how animals value and appreciate aesthetic beauty and how similar that is to how humans view ‘aesthetic beauty’ – and of course implies that bird and whales must have some kind of Billboard 100 chart floating around!

The idea of cultural evolution in non-human animals is a growing topic of discussion but if you want to know more about how whale songs change check out the link below.

Read more: Global cultural evolutionary model of humpback whale song


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 Waze

Migration – that big annual event where some animals ‘pack up and ship out’ when the season starts to turn and better pastures are to be found elsewhere. Although we may not really understand how bird migration routes work, we do know that they seem to be ‘pre-programmed’ – individuals don’t typically veer off of the designated route (although some individuals might get blown off course and a bit turned around).

That being said, long-term observation of Richard’s pipits has revealed that (at least some of them) have exchanged their usual north-south migration route in and out of Russia for an east-west alternative. Although we might not be 100% sure what caused these individuals to recalculate their routes, it does open the door for some more questioning with regards to the flexibility and ‘reprogrammability’ of these long-standing migration routes.

You can read the research article at the link below:

A new westward migration route in an Asian passerine bird


Copy-Paste

Introverts unite! Okay so maybe California Condors aren’t out there cloning friends for themselves – but they are able to produce viable offspring from unfertilised eggs and that’s pretty darn close.


Stranger Swifts: Conserving One Of The World’s Fastest Birds In Dublin City

What involves cycling like a maniac around the city at odd hours of the day, juggling notebooks and cameras, and chasing down your quarry by the sound of it screaming overhead? Surprisingly not the latest plotline of Stranger Things.

I was employed for three months this summer as a Swift Fieldworker with Birdwatch Ireland, Ireland’s largest conservation organisation. Our goal was to track down as many swift nests as possible, record them, and produce a report for Dublin City Council, who requested the survey as part of their Biodiversity Action Plan.

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Even More Evil Birds, World-Destroying Cats and More Ecological Mysteries From The Search Terms

This is a cat bent on the apocalypse (Image Credit: Sa Ka, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped)

I like to think that when people visit Ecology for the Masses, they come to quench their insatiable curiosity about the ecological world and all its mysteries, and just want a well-reasoned, accessible answer to their issues (and also to figure out whether birds are reptiles of course).

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How Form Defines Function

Image Credit: Francesco Veronesi, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped

Macroevolutionary convergence connects morphological form to ecological function in birds (2020) Pigot et al, Nature Ecology & Evolution, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-1070-4

The Crux

There are an astounding amount of different forms that the animals on our planet take. Likewise, there are a multitude of diverse functions that animals serve in the environment, such as that of a herbivore, a predator, or scavenger. In some cases it’s a clear link between the form of a given animal and its function in the environment, like that of the beak of a hummingbird that allows it to feed on nectar and their role as a pollinator. But whether or not there is a reliable way to predict the function of an animal based off of its form is has been the subject of considerable controversy.

Deciding on how many morphological traits to use to predict ecological function is a difficult prospect. One could argue that it’s impossible to pick a finite number of traits, as there are infinite possible niches that organisms can fill so there’s no way that a set of traits could fill those infinite possible niches. Mapping animal form to function has major implications for quantifying and and conserving biodiversity, and the authors of today’s paper wanted to to determine just how many traits are needed to do that.

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Whales Are Fish: Weird Perspectives on Classification

You would think that after researching how a species will react to climate change, which individuals are more likely to avoid predators, and what its DNA says about its evolutionary history, simply classifying what species an animal is would be pretty simple. Unfortunately that’s not the case. I distinctly recall being given the runaround by my primary school teacher when asked to define what a mammal was (according to the internet a coconut qualifies, so maybe that debate’s not over yet).

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