Allometry of alarm calls: black-capped chickadees encode information about predator size. (1/29)

Many animals produce alarm signals when they detect a potential predator, but we still know little about the information contained in these signals. Using presentations of 15 species of live predators, we show that acoustic features of the mobbing calls of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapilla) vary with the size of the predator. Companion playback experiments revealed that chickadees detect this information and that the intensity of mobbing behavior is related to the size and threat of the potential predator. This study demonstrates an unsuspected level of complexity and sophistication in avian alarm calls.  (+info)

Polyphyly of the hawk genera Leucopternis and Buteogallus (Aves, Accipitridae): multiple habitat shifts during the Neotropical buteonine diversification. (2/29)

BACKGROUND: The family Accipitridae (hawks, eagles and Old World vultures) represents a large radiation of predatory birds with an almost global distribution, although most species of this family occur in the Neotropics. Despite great morphological and ecological diversity, the evolutionary relationships in the family have been poorly explored at all taxonomic levels. Using sequences from four mitochondrial genes (12S, ATP8, ATP6, and ND6), we reconstructed the phylogeny of the Neotropical forest hawk genus Leucopternis and most of the allied genera of Neotropical buteonines. Our goals were to infer the evolutionary relationships among species of Leucopternis, estimate their relationships to other buteonine genera, evaluate the phylogenetic significance of the white and black plumage patterns common to most Leucopternis species, and assess general patterns of diversification of the group with respect to species' affiliations with Neotropical regions and habitats. RESULTS: Our molecular phylogeny for the genus Leucopternis and its allies disagrees sharply with traditional taxonomic arrangements for the group, and we present new hypotheses of relationships for a number of species. The mtDNA phylogenetic trees derived from analysis of the combined data posit a polyphyletic relationship among species of Leucopternis, Buteogallus and Buteo. Three highly supported clades containing Leucopternis species were recovered in our phylogenetic reconstructions. The first clade consisted of the sister pairs L. lacernulatus and Buteogallus meridionalis, and Buteogallus urubitinga and Harpyhaliaetus coronatus, in addition to L. schistaceus and L. plumbeus. The second clade included the sister pair Leucopternis albicollis and L. occidentalis as well as L. polionotus. The third lineage comprised the sister pair L. melanops and L. kuhli, in addition to L. semiplumbeus and Buteo buteo. According to our results, the white and black plumage patterns have evolved at least twice in the group. Furthermore, species found to the east and west of the Andes (cis-Andean and trans-Andean, respectively) are not reciprocally monophyletic, nor are forest and non-forest species. CONCLUSION: The polyphyly of Leucopternis, Buteogallus and Buteo establishes a lack of concordance of current Accipitridae taxonomy with the mtDNA phylogeny for the group, and points to the need for further phylogenetic analysis at all taxonomic levels in the family as also suggested by other recent analyses. Habitat shifts, as well as cis- and trans-Andean disjunctions, took place more than once during buteonine diversification in the Neotropical region. Overemphasis of the black and white plumage patterns has led to questionable conclusions regarding the relationships of Leucopternis species, and suggests more generally that plumage characters should be used with considerable caution in the taxonomic evaluation of the Accipitridae.  (+info)

Age-dependent diet choice in an avian top predator. (3/29)

Age-dependent breeding performance is arguably one of the best-documented phenomena in ornithology. The existence of age-related trends has major implications for life-history theory, but the proximate reasons for these patterns remain poorly understood. It has been proposed that poor breeding performance of young individuals might reflect lack of foraging skills. We investigated this possibility in a medium-sized, powerful raptor-the northern goshawk Accipiter gentilis. Male goshawks are responsible for providing their females and their offspring with food. We hypothesized that young males may generally show poor breeding performance or even delay breeding, because they lack the experience to hunt efficiently-especially, their principal avian prey, the feral pigeon Columba livia. Our study exploited a rare 'natural experiment', the expansion phase of an urban population, where intraspecific interference was negligible and many young males bred successfully. This enabled us to examine the improvement of foraging skills in a larger sample of young individuals, and in more controlled conditions than usually possible. Using data from individually identified male breeders, we show that, consistent with our hypothesis, the proportion of pigeons in the diet increased significantly with male age, for at least the first three years of life. Other studies have shown a parallel increase in productivity, and a positive effect of a pigeon-rich diet on brood size and nestling condition, stressing the potential fitness relevance of this prey species for goshawks. Our results suggest a causal link between patterns of age-dependence in foraging ecology and reproductive performance. Furthermore, our study is, to our knowledge, the first demonstration that prey choice of breeders, which might reflect individual hunting skills, is age-dependent in a raptor.  (+info)

Disease ecology in the Galapagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis): host genetic diversity, parasite load and natural antibodies. (4/29)

An increased susceptibility to disease is one hypothesis explaining how inbreeding hastens extinction in island endemics and threatened species. Experimental studies show that disease resistance declines as inbreeding increases, but data from in situ wildlife systems are scarce. Genetic diversity increases with island size across the entire range of an extremely inbred Galapagos endemic bird, providing the context for a natural experiment examining the effects of inbreeding on disease susceptibility. Extremely inbred populations of Galapagos hawks had higher parasite abundances than relatively outbred populations. We found a significant island effect on constitutively produced natural antibody (NAb) levels and inbred populations generally harboured lower average and less variable NAb levels than relatively outbred populations. Furthermore, NAb levels explained abundance of amblyceran lice, which encounter the host immune system. This is the first study linking inbreeding, innate immunity and parasite load in an endemic, in situ wildlife population and provides a clear framework for assessment of disease risk in a Galapagos endemic.  (+info)

Testing domains of danger in the selfish herd: sparrowhawks target widely spaced redshanks in flocks. (5/29)

The main tenet of Hamilton's 'selfish herd theory' for the evolution of group living is that individual risk of being killed upon attack by a predator is greater when relatively far from conspecifics. Here we examine the role of spacing using video analysis of encounters between redshanks, Tringa totanus, in flocks on saltmarsh, and sparrowhawks, Accipiter nisus, surprise hunting from adjacent woodland. Targeted redshanks were 35% (approx. 5 body lengths) more widely spaced than their nearest non-targeted neighbours, controlling for proximity to the hawk. Although targeted redshanks were also twice as slow to escape, the effect dropped out of a model containing spacing, which alone accounted for twice as much variation as escape delay. Redshanks were more tightly spaced on the riskiest side of the flock, suggesting they attempted to compensate for the greater risk, while birds on the edges of flocks were more widely spaced than those in the centre. Our analysis controls for most of the confounding effects associated with the edge-centre comparisons that are normally used in similar studies and provides strong support for spacing-dependent differential predation risk in the wild. In general, we suggest that positive selection for tight spacing when prey are stationary is largely due to domains of danger, but that this also leads to positive selection when prey are mobile because of predator confusion.  (+info)

The correct identity of a louse sample (Phthiraptera: Menoponidae) from the roadside hawk, Rupornis magnirostris (Gmelin) (Falconiformes: Accipitridae). (6/29)

A report of a louse sample identified as Colpocephalum cholibae Price & Beer by Oliveira et al. (2004), from the roadside hawk [Rupornis magnirostris (Gmelin)] in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, is regarded as a misidentification. A correction to the identity of the lice is given as Kurodaia (Kurodaia) fulvofasciata (Piaget). Key morphological differences between the genera Colpocephalum and Kurodaia are discussed, as well as possible reasons for the misidentification.  (+info)

Food partitioning between breeding White-tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus; Aves; Accipitridae) and Barn Owls (Tyto alba; Aves; Tytonidae) in southern Brazil. (7/29)

I examined the diet of breeding White-tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus; Aves; Accipitridae) and Barn Owls (Tyto alba; Aves; Tytonidae) in an agrarian area of southern Brazil by analyzing regurgitated prey remains. The objective was to evaluate how these raptors, which differ markedly in their hunting activity periods (owls are nocturnal and kites diurnal), share their mammalian food component. 2,087 prey consumed by Barn Owls and 1,276 by White-tailed Kites were identified. They presented a high overlap of food-niches (Piankas index was 0.98). Based on the daily activity period of their main small mammal prey, a lower overlap would be expected. The crepuscular/nocturnal Mus musculus was the main prey for the diet of breeding Barn Owls (81%) and White-tailed Kites (63%). This small exotic rodent provided 63% of the small mammal biomass ingested by owls and 44% by kites. Larger native small mammals were also considered important for the diet of kites, mainly because of their biomass contribution. Although these raptors differ markedly in their hunting activity periods, Barn Owls and White-tailed Kites are very similar predators in southern Brazil, overlapping their diets.  (+info)

Genetic stasis of dominant West Nile virus genotype, Houston, Texas. (8/29)

The accumulation and fixation of mutations in West Nile virus (WNV) led to the emergence of a dominant genotype throughout North America. Subsequent analysis of 44 isolates, including 19 new sequences, from Houston, Texas, suggests that WNV has reached relative genetic stasis at the local level in recent years.  (+info)