Animals that use flight as their mode of transportation must cope with the fact that their migration and orientation performance is strongly affected by the flow of the medium they are moving in, that is by the winds. Different strategies can be used to mitigate the negative effects and benefit from the positive effects of a moving flow. The strategies an animal can use will be constrained by the relationship between the speed of the flow and the speed of the animal's own propulsion in relation to the surrounding air. Here we analyse entomological and ornithological radar data from north-western Europe to investigate how two different nocturnal migrant taxa, the noctuid moth Autographa gamma and songbirds, deal with wind by analysing variation in resulting flight directions in relation to the wind-dependent angle between the animal's heading and track direction. Our results, from fixed locations along the migratory journey, reveal different global strategies used by moths and songbirds during their migratory journeys. As expected, nocturnally migrating moths experienced a greater degree of wind drift than nocturnally migrating songbirds, but both groups were more affected by wind in autumn than in spring. The songbirds' strategies involve elements of both drift and compensation, providing some benefits from wind in combination with destination and time control. In contrast, moths expose themselves to a significantly higher degree of drift in order to obtain strong wind assistance, surpassing the songbirds in mean ground speed, at the cost of a comparatively lower spatiotemporal migratory precision. Moths and songbirds show contrasting but adaptive responses to migrating through a moving flow, which are fine-tuned to the respective flight capabilities of each group in relation to the wind currents they travel within.
Avian vocal control regions of adult male songbirds contain opioid peptides and receptors, suggesting that opioids play a role in avian vocal behavior control. In a previous study, we found no difference in opioid receptor densities in singing versus nonsinging adult male dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), leading us to hypothesize that opioids are not involved in controlling song production. To assess whether opioids may be involved in other aspects of vocal behavior, we used quantitative in vitro autoradiography to compare mu and delta opioid receptor densities in vocal control regions of singing adult males with those of adult females and adolescent (about 3 months old) males and females. We found mu and delta receptors in all vocal control regions measured. Adolescents had significantly higher opioid receptor densities than did adults in area X (delta), robust n. of the archistriatum (delta and mu), and n. intercollicularis (mu), suggesting a developmental role for opioids in the vocal control system. Based on opioid roles in other animal models, we propose that opioids may be involved in song learning, auditory processing, and/or vocal control system development.
Polymorphism in warning coloration is puzzling because positive frequency-dependent selection by predators is expected to promote monomorphic warning signals in defended prey. We studied predation on the warning-coloured wood tiger moth (Parasemia plantaginis) by using artificial prey resembling white and yellow male colour morphs in five separate populations with different naturally occurring morph frequencies. We tested whether predation favours one of the colour morphs over the other and whether that is influenced either by local, natural colour morph frequencies or predator community composition. We found that yellow specimens were attacked less than white ones regardless of the local frequency of the morphs indicating frequency-independent selection, but predation did depend on predator community composition: yellows suffered less attacks when Paridae were abundant, whereas whites suffered less attacks when Prunellidae were abundant. Our results suggest that spatial heterogeneity in predator community composition can generate a geographical mosaic of selection facilitating the evolution of polymorphic warning signals. This is the first time this mechanism gains experimental support. Altogether, this study sheds light on the evolution of adaptive coloration in heterogeneous environments.
Latitudinal gradients in population dynamics can arise through regional variation in the deterministic components of the population dynamics and the stochastic factors. Here, we demonstrate an increase with latitude in the contribution of a large-scale climate pattern, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), to the fluctuations in size of populations of two European hole-nesting passerine species. However, this influence of climate induced different latitudinal gradients in the population dynamics of the two species. In the great tit the proportion of the variability in the population fluctuations explained by the NAO increased with latitude, showing a larger impact of climate on the population fluctuations of this species at higher latitudes. In contrast, no latitudinal gradient was found in the relative contribution of climate to the variability of the pied flycatcher populations because the total environmental stochasticity increased with latitude. This shows that the population ecological consequences of an expected climate change will depend on how climate affects the environmental stochasticity in the population process. In both species, the effects will be larger in those parts of Europe where large changes in climate are expected.
Goal-oriented migrants travelling through the sea or air must cope with the effect of cross-flows during their journeys if they are to reach their destination. In order to counteract flow-induced drift from their preferred course, migrants must detect the mean flow direction, and integrate this information with output from their internal compass, to compensate for the deflection. Animals can potentially sense flow direction by two nonexclusive mechanisms: either indirectly, by visually assessing the effect of the current on their movement direction relative to the ground; or directly, via intrinsic properties of the current. Here, we report the first evidence that nocturnal compass-guided insect migrants use a turbulence-mediated mechanism for directly assessing the wind direction hundreds of metres above the ground. By comparison, we find that nocturnally-migrating songbirds do not use turbulence to detect the flow; instead they rely on visual assessment of wind-induced drift to indirectly infer the flow direction.
There has been increasing concern over the decline in many migratory bird species. As Saether discusses in his Perspective, evidence is accumulating (Sillett et al.) that climate change resulting from the El Niño Southern Oscillation affects both the survival rate of adult birds at tropical wintering sites and their reproductive rate at summer breeding grounds in the Northern Hemisphere.
Comment In: Science. 2000 Jun 16;288(5473):2040-210856216
Arctic regions are warming rapidly, with extreme weather events increasing in frequency, duration, and intensity just as in other regions. Many studies have focused on how shifting seasonality in environmental conditions affects vegetation phenology, while far fewer have examined how the breeding phenology of arctic fauna responds. We studied two species of long-distance migratory songbirds, Lapland longspurs, Calcarius lapponicus, and white-crowned sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii, across five consecutive breeding seasons in northern Alaskan tundra. We aimed to understand how spring environmental conditions affected breeding cycle phenology, including the timing of arrival on breeding grounds, territory establishment, and clutch initiation. Spring temperatures, precipitation, and snow-free dates differed significantly among years, with 2013 characterized by unusually late snow cover. In response, we found a significant delay in breeding-cycle phenology for both study species in 2013 relative to other study years: the first bird observed was delayed by 6-10 days, with mean arrival by 3-6 days, territory establishment by 6-13 days, and clutch initiation by 4-10 days. Further, snow cover, temperature, and precipitation during the territory establishment period were important predictors of clutch initiation dates for both species. These findings suggest that Arctic-breeding passerine communities may have the flexibility required to adjust breeding phenology in response to the increasingly extreme and unpredictable environmental conditions-although future generations may encounter conditions that exceed their current range of phenological flexibility.
Dispersing and non-dispersing individuals often differ in phenotypic traits (e.g. physiology, behaviour), but to what extent these differences are fixed or driven by external conditions remains elusive. We experimentally tested whether differences in nest-defence behaviour between dispersing and non-dispersing individuals changed with local habitat quality in collared flycatchers, by providing additional food during the nestling rearing period. In control (non-food-supplemented) nests, dispersers were less prone to defend their brood compared with non-dispersers, whereas in food-supplemented nests, dispersing and non-dispersing individuals showed equally strong nest defence. We discuss the importance of dispersal costs versus adaptive flexibility in reproductive investment in shaping these differences in nest-defence behaviour between dispersing and non-dispersing individuals. Irrespective of the underlying mechanisms, our study emphasizes the importance of accounting for environmental effects when comparing traits between dispersing and non-dispersing individuals, and in turn assessing the costs and benefits of dispersal.