Looking back on 2013

This post provides an abstract of what we achieved in 2013 both within and out of the scope of our CNCSIS grant (#TE 291/2010), which ran out by the end of 2013.

The year 2013 was the most productive (in terms of scientific output) in the life of the Evolutionary Ecology Group. Six articles were accepted for publication. We showed that (i) among three phthirapteran lice species infesting house sparrows, the most prevalent one has the more egalitarian sex ratio and the least pronounced female-biased sexual size dimorphism (Pap et al. 2013 J Parasitol 99: 24–30), (ii) coccidian infestation has both short- and long-term adverse effects on flight feather quality of house sparrows (Pap et al. 2013 Biol J Linn Soc 108: 414–428), (iii) the absence of the uropygial gland, and thus blocked access to preen oils, did not result in increased feather-degrading bacteria load, but to increased other cultivable bacteria load on the plumage of house sparrows (Czirják et al. 2013 Naturwissenschaften 100: 145–151), (iv) in a comparison across 63 bird species, risk-taking behaviour expressed as flight initiation distance (FID) has physiological and morphological bases, as species with long FID relative to body size have lower haematocrit value and larger wing area and wing aspect ratio (Møller et al. 2013 J Evol Biol 26: 1143–1150), (v) in a comparison across 132 bird species, species potentially exposed to higher bacterial infestation risk (in terms of large total eggshell surface area, social breeding, humid habitat) have larger relative uropygial gland size (Vincze et al. 2013 Biol J Linn Soc 110: 543–563) and (vi) in house sparrows, higher problem-solving performance is facilitated by good health, namely higher levels of an endogenous antioxidant (glutathione), and lower levels of stress hormone (corticosterone) and coccidian infestation intensity (Bókony et al. 2014 Behav Ecol 25: 124–135).

Beyond these, we have two manuscripts submitted for review and several recently closed projects, which await for data analysis and manuscript preparation. The manuscripts are about the physiological effects of coccidian infestation during the annual cycle on the one hand, and the potential causes of feather holes on the other hand. Major projects on the pipe are: (i) the evolution of feather structure (phylogenetic comparative), (ii) adaptations to migration (phylogenetic comparative), (iii) costs of malaria infestation (multiple house sparrow populations), (iv) function of the uropygial gland (experiment with house sparrows), (v) costs of chronic physiological stress (experiment with house sparrows), (vi) physiological correlates of costly phenotypic traits (phylogenetic comparative), (vii) physiological costs of moult (experiment with house sparrows), (viii) repeatability of feather mite intensity and prevalence (phylogenetic comparative).

So, we trust to attain at least a similar sabbatical in 2014.

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. Thank you again!

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