Why do some birds listen rather than look for mates?December 28th, 2009 - 3:03 pm ICT by IANS
Washington, Dec 28 (IANS) Seeing is believing, but certain bird species have figured out that bird songs can tell them what they need to know to find the right mate.
Andrew DeWoody, associate professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue University, said females can pick up on the pitch of the males’ songs to decide which birds will make the best mates.
“Females may prefer to mate with males that hit the highest notes because their offspring will have more genetic diversity,” DeWoody said. “Male calls could be honest indicators of their genetic diversity.”
DeWoody and former Purdue graduate student Johel Chaves-Campos studied antbirds in the tropical forests of Central America.
The antbirds survive by tracking army ants, which hunt in large swarms and are capable of killing just about anything in their paths. The birds flit ahead of the swarms and collect arthropods that flee for their lives.
“They wait at the front for the ants to flush out a grasshopper, for example,” DeWoody said.
The antbirds have several calls, some to let fellow antbirds know where the army ants are heading, others to attract mates and still others that are defensive or aggressive to protect turf.
DeWoody’s research involved recording those calls and matching them to DNA samples of the birds. The results suggest that genetic diversity in antbirds affects their physical abilities to produce certain sounds.
“Our results are consistent with the idea that some sound frequencies are biomechanically difficult to produce,” DeWoody said.
“Males that are genetically diverse, and therefore expected to be in better physical condition, are able to produce sound frequencies that males with less genetic variation are unable to reach,” Chaves-Campos said.
The study was published in the December online edition of PLoS Biology.
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Tags: antbirds, army ants, arthropods, associate professor, bird songs, bird species, chaves, dna samples, genetic diversity, genetic variation, graduate student, grasshopper, mates, offspring, physical abilities, purdue graduate, purdue university, sound frequencies, swarms, tropical forests