Looking back on 2011

This post is not entirely related to our project financed by CNCSIS (#TE 291/2010), but provides an abstract of what we achieved in 2011 both within and out of the scope of the CNCSIS project.

The year 2011 wasn’t productive at all in terms of scientific output, as we published two papers in ornithological journals (in Auk and Ardea), one within and one out of the scope of our running project. In the paper appeared in Auk, we experimentally tested the potential costs of coccidian intestinal parasites on moult mediated by effects on condition and immune investment, while the article accepted in Ardea sought the correlates (season, age, sex, feather quality) of feather abnormalities. And now are coming the “Howevers”. We won’t explain why only two papers were published in 2011, it is obviously our fault, but outline what else we did that hopefully will result in publications in the near future.

We analysed or are en route in analysing some past data about (1) the evolution of innate immunity in European birds by looking for allometry, life-history, ecology and behaviour as explanatory variables with a phylogenetic comparative approach; (2) the evolution of sex ratio and sexual size dimorphism in three closely related Ischnoceran lice species that parasitize house sparrows (Passer domesticus L.) but have contrasting abundance, prevalence and mobility; (3) the effect of experimentally accelerated moult rate on flight and body feather quality in a non-migratory passerine, the house sparrow; (4) the potential armament function of depigmented white wing-bar of male house sparrows.

We also successfully finished 4 studies (3 experimental and 1 correlative) on house sparrows about (1) the multifaceted effects of coccidiosis on host’s seasonal immune cycling, condition, health, plumage ornamentation, moult and feather quality by also testing sexual inequalities; (2) the multiple function of uropygial gland and its oily secretion in sustaining plumage quality and their potential role played as cosmetics by increasing the showiness of plumage ornaments; (3) the stress and oxidative physiology correlates of plumage advertisements; (4) stress-induced modulation of social behaviour (aggressiveness, feeding). Further, we collected blood samples from many central European species for addressing questions about the evolution of oxidative homeostasis.

Thus, we trust to attain a better sabbatical in 2012. For this, we also aim higher concerning the plans for 2012.

The above results would have not been possible to reach without the altruistic help of a large number of undergrad and master students recruited in our Evolutionary Ecology Group at the University of Babeş-Bolyai, Cluj Napoca, Romania. They undoubtedly get experience in many field and lab tasks. Beyond, they are members of author board in manuscripts which paves the way for a fruitful scientific career.

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