Paper on breeding effort, cohabitation with farm animals & feather-associated bacteria accepted in Journal of Avian Biology

Authors marked in boldface are EvolEcol members.

Fülöp A, Vágási CI and Pap PL 2017. Cohabitation with farm animals rather than breeding effort increases the infection with feather-associated bacteria in the barn swallow Hirundo rustica. Journal of Avian Biology (in press).

DOI: 10.1111/jav.01262


Abstract: Feather-associated bacteria are widespread inhabitants of avian plumage. However, the determinants of the between-individual variation in plumage bacterial loads are less well understood. Infection intensities can be determined by ecological factors, such as breeding habitat, and can be actively regulated by hosts via preening. Preening, yet, is a resource intensive activity, and thus might be traded-off against reproductive investment in breeding birds. Here, we studied barn swallows Hirundo rustica to assess the bacterial cost of reproduction in relation to nesting site micro-habitats. Barn swallows prefer to breed in the company of large-sized farm animals, although the presence of mammalian livestock in barns assures a warm and humid micro-climate that favours bacterial proliferation. Thus, we experimentally manipulated brood sizes of birds breeding in barns with, or without, farm animals and measured total cultivable bacteria (TCB) and feather-degrading bacteria (FDB) from the plumage. We found that the abundance of feather-associated bacteria (i.e. both TCB and FDB) in females, but not males, breeding in barns with livestock were significantly higher than in conspecifics breeding in empty barns. Plumage bacterial loads, however, were not affected by brood size manipulations in either sex. In addition, we report a negative relationship between both TCB and FDB and hatching date in females, and several sex and seasonal differences in plumage bacterial abundances. Our study is the first to show that breeding micro-habitat (i.e. livestock co-tenancy) has consequences for the abundance of feather-associated bacteria.


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A phylogenetic comparative analysis reveals correlations between body feather structure and habitat

Our paper in Functional Ecology is now edited.


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Our paper on body feather functional morphology is out in Functional Ecology

A phylogenetic comparative analysis reveals correlations between body feather structure and habitat.

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Paper about parental cooperation in a changing climate accepted in Global Ecology and Biogeography

Authors marked in boldface are EvolEcol members.

Vincze O, Kosztolányi A, Barta Z, Küpper C, Alrashidi M, Amat JA, Argüelles Ticó A, Burns F, Cavitt J, Conway WC, Cruz-López M, Desucre-Medrano AE, dos Remedios N, Figuerola J, Galindo-Espinosa D, García-Peña GE, Gómez Del Angel S, Gratto-Trevor C, Jönsson P, Lloyd P, Montalvo T, Parra JE, Pruner R, Que P, Liu Y, Saalfeld ST, Schulz R, Serra L, St Clair JJH, Stenzel LE, Weston MA, Yasué M, Zefania S and Székely T 2017. Parental cooperation in a changing climate: fluctuating environments predict shifts in care division. Global Ecology and Biogeography (in press) doi:10.1111/geb.12540.



Parental care improves the survival of offspring and therefore has a major impact on reproductive success. It is increasingly recognized that coordinated biparental care is necessary to ensure the survival of offspring in hostile environments, but little is known about the influence of environmental fluctuations on parental cooperation. Assessing the impacts of environmental stochasticity, however, is essential for understanding how populations will respond to climate change and the associated increasing frequencies of extreme weather events. Here we investigate the influence of environmental stochasticity on biparental incubation in a cosmopolitan ground-nesting avian genus.




We assembled data on biparental care in 36 plover populations (Charadrius spp.) from six continents, collected between 1981 and 2012. Using a space-for-time approach we investigate how average temperature, temperature stochasticity (i.e. year-to-year variation) and seasonal temperature variation during the breeding season influence parental cooperation during incubation.


We show that both average ambient temperature and its fluctuations influence parental cooperation during incubation. Male care relative to female care increases with both mean ambient temperature and temperature stochasticity. Local climatic conditions explain within-species population differences in parental cooperation, probably reflecting phenotypic plasticity of behaviour.

Main conclusions

The degree of flexibility in parental cooperation is likely to mediate the impacts of climate change on the demography and reproductive behaviour of wild animal populations.

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Paper on functional morphology of body feathers accepted in Functional Ecology

Authors marked in boldface are EvolEcol members, authors with asterisk are undergrad students.

Pap PL, Vincze O, Wekerle B*, Daubner T*, Vágási CI, Nudds RL, Dyke GJ and Osváth G 2017. A phylogenetic comparative analysis reveals correlations between body feather structure and habitat. Functional Ecology (in press).

1. Body feathers ensure both waterproofing and insulation in waterbirds, but how natural variation in the morphological properties of these appendages relates to environmental constraints remains largely unexplored. Here, we test how habitat and thermal condition affect the morphology of body feathers using a phylogenetic comparative analysis of five structural traits [i.e., total feather length, the lengths of the pennaceous (distal) and plumulaceous (proximal) sections, barb density, and pennaceous barbule density] from a sample of 194 European bird species.
2. Body feather total length is shorter in aquatic than in terrestrial birds, and this difference between groups is due to the shorter plumulaceous feather section in aquatic birds. Indeed, a reduced plumulaceous section in feather length probably reflects the need to limit air trapped in the plumage to adjust the buoyancy of aquatic birds. In contrast, the high pennaceous barbule density of aquatic birds compared to their terrestrial counterparts reflects water resistance of the plumage in contact with water.
3. Our results show that birds living in environments with low ambient temperature have long plumulaceous feather lengths, low barb density, and low pennaceous barbule density. Data also suggest that plumage probably has limited function in reducing the heat absorption of species living in hot environments.
4. Our results have broad implications for understanding the suite of selection pressures driving the evolution of body feather functional morphology. It remains to be tested, however, how other feather traits, such as the density of plumage (feathers per unit area) and the relative number of different feather types, for example downy feathers, are distributed amongst birds with different water resistance and thermoinsulative needs.

Key-words: body feathers, feather lengths, functional morphology, thermal insulation, vane density, water repellence


Figure 1. Different parts of a body feather with distal pennaceous and proximal plumulaceous sections delimited by a white stripe across the rachis at the base of the barb in which the length was at least 33% plumulaceus. The black lines define the boundary of the pennaceous and plumulaceous sections of the vane (a,b). Upper figures show two typical species with the ratio of the pennaceous feather section to plumulaceous part. In the Common Raven (Corvus corax), a terrestrial species, the plumulaceous part is longer (a), while in the Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), an aquatic bird, this feather part is reduced in length (b). Lower figures illustrate a section of pennaceous vane with the rachis and barb to which the barbules attach. The density of pennaceous barbules are lower in terrestrial species, such as the Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) (c) than in aquatic birds, represented here by the Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) (d). Scale bars for figures (a) and (b) are 1 cm, and for (c) and (d) are 0.5 mm.

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Paper on diversity of parental care rhythms in shorebirds published in Nature

Bulla M, M Valcu, AM Dokter, AG Dondua, A Kosztolányi, A Rutten, B Helm, BK Sandercock, B Casler, BJ Ens, CS Spiegel, CJ Hassell, C Küpper, C Minton, D Burgas, DB Lank, DC Payer, EY Loktionov, E Nol, E Kwon, F Smith, HR Gates, H Vitnerová, H Prüter, JA Johnson, JJH St Clair, J-F Lamarre, J Rausch, J Reneerkens, JR Conklin, J Burger, J Liebezeit, J Bêty, JT Coleman, J Figuerola, JCEW Hooijmeijer, JA Alves, JAM Smith, K Weidinger, K Koivula, K Gosbell, L Niles, L Koloski, L McKinnon, L Praus, M Klaassen, M-A Giroux, M Sládeček, ML Boldenow, M Exo, MI Goldstein, M Šálek, N Senner, N Rönkä, N Lecomte, O Gilg, O Vincze, OW Johnson, PA Smith, PF Woodard, PS Tomkovich, P Battley, R Bentzen, RB Lanctot, R Porter, ST Saalfeld, S Freeman, SC Brown, S Yezerinac, T Székely, T Piersma, T Montalvo, V Loverti, V-M Pakanen, W Tijsen, B Kempenaers 2016. Unexpected diversity in socially synchronized rhythms of shorebirds. Nature (in press).

Abstract: The behavioural rhythms of organisms are thought to be under strong selection, influenced by the rhythmicity of the environment1,2,3,4. Such behavioural rhythms are well studied in isolated individuals under laboratory conditions1,5, but free-living individuals have to temporally synchronize their activities with those of others, including potential mates, competitors, prey and predators6,7,8,9,10. Individuals can temporally segregate their daily activities (for example, prey avoiding predators, subordinates avoiding dominants) or synchronize their activities (for example, group foraging, communal defence, pairs reproducing or caring for offspring)6,7,8,9,11. The behavioural rhythms that emerge from such social synchronization and the underlying evolutionary and ecological drivers that shape them remain poorly understood5,6,7,9. Here we investigate these rhythms in the context of biparental care, a particularly sensitive phase of social synchronization12 where pair members potentially compromise their individual rhythms. Using data from 729 nests of 91 populations of 32 biparentally incubating shorebird species, where parents synchronize to achieve continuous coverage of developing eggs, we report remarkable within- and between-species diversity in incubation rhythms. Between species, the median length of one parent’s incubation bout varied from 1–19 h, whereas period length—the time in which a parent’s probability to incubate cycles once between its highest and lowest value—varied from 6–43 h. The length of incubation bouts was unrelated to variables reflecting energetic demands, but species relying on crypsis (the ability to avoid detection by other animals) had longer incubation bouts than those that are readily visible or who actively protect their nest against predators. Rhythms entrainable to the 24-h light–dark cycle were less prevalent at high latitudes and absent in 18 species. Our results indicate that even under similar environmental conditions and despite 24-h environmental cues, social synchronization can generate far more diverse behavioural rhythms than expected from studies of individuals in captivity5,6,7,9. The risk of predation, not the risk of starvation, may be a key factor underlying the diversity in these rhythms.


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Environmental selection is a main driver of divergence in house sparrows (Passer domesticus) in Romania and Bulgaria

This paper is now online and can be accessed here:

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