Peri’s paper characterising the population genetics of the Gouldian finch in the wild was published last week in the open access PLosOne. This paper focuses on birds sampled from across the range of the Gouldian finch including samples from Mornington and Wyndham in the Kimberley, Western Australia; a number of sites in the Northern Territory, and Chidna in Queensland. DNA extracted from blood samples taken from the wild birds was analysed using three molecular approaches and indicates that there is no clear genetic structuring across the sampled areas. This is consistent with a view that Gouldians are quite mobile, and individuals may be found across a wide range. An implication of this molecular work is that the species may be more difficult to reliably census than species which have a higher level of genetic structuring, and are more restricted to particular areas or sites.
The rationale for undertaking this work was to help inform management of this species, and this work was part of our submission to the committee responsible for the Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, who on the 7th December announced their decision to retain the status of the Gouldian finch as ‘endangered’ which is a great outcome and maintains a good degree of protection for the species and its habitat.
The full paper is open access and can be found here.
We’re spending a few days in Canberra at the amazing egg collection in the Australian National Wildlife collection, measuring variation in size, coloration and patterning across the Australian passerines. The data will be analysed as part of our ongoing research into the way that the environment affects nesting and reproductive investment. The collection holds specimens from most species and reveals the stunning diversity across birds in the amount of pigmentation and patterning.
UAV’s or drones are increasingly being used in environmental science, as a great way of gathering imagery and deploying sensors. In mid September, Richard Lucas, from UNSW organised a fantastic meeting, which brought together a range of different UAV’s and sensors for a few days of frenetic data gathering. We were lucky enough to get involved, and helped to set up ‘challenges’ and ground truth some of the data acquired. The data that has now been gathered in Lake Paddock (the central area for the chestnut-crowned babbler project), and Gap Hill (the key area for our work on zebra finches), will provide excellent insight into the link between landscape, vegetation and avian ecology, once it is all processed and analysed.
Although not yet published there is a nice story in Science News about our work on the
evolution of nest shape. The story can be found here. The work is currently under review for publication but was presented by lead author Jordan Price at the recent North American Ornithological Congress. Jordan did this work with us whilst on Sabbatical early this year.
One of the papers from Enrico Sorato’s PhD work was published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology. In the paper, we showed that in the chestnut-crowned babbler,
individuals suffer a cost of hanging around with their group mates, even if they are not actively involved in feeding offspring. That’s because over the course of a breeding attempt the foragers have to move further into the territory away from the nest to find enough food, incurring greater costs of moving and foraging. This cost, which has not been considered before may help to understand individual decisions about when to stay and when to leave a social group, and will contribute to the optimal group size. The paper is entitled The price of associating with breeders in the cooperatively breeding chestnut-crowned babbler: foraging constraints, survival and sociality, and can be found here.
The paper by Peri was published today in Molecular Ecology and is freely available for download here. The paper focuses on the potential dangers to populations that arise when genetically discrete polymorphisms interact.
Sam is currently in Norway working with the house sparrow genetics group in Trondheim to look at SNP data from the Australian sparrows. During his trip, he is being hosted by Glenn-Peter Saetre in Oslo and Henrik Jensen at NTNU in Trondheim. This molecular work should provide a high level of coverage for population genetics and history and hopefully also for looking at selection across the different Australian climates.
Sam’s first sparrow paper has just been published in the open access journal Avian Research, which means that it’s freely available (here). In our paper we have looked at the history of the house sparrow introduction into Australia in the 1860’s. A great effort was made to introduce sparrows in an effort to use them to fight the insect pests that were perceived to be causing significant damage to the ability of the farms to feed the early colonists. One of the most surprising findings of the historical research that we conducted was that although it is commonly believed that the sparrows came out from England, we found clear evidence that the first birds to arrive and breed in Australia in fact came from India.
Peri’s second paper was published today in Molecular Ecology. It was a follow up to her first paper which attracted useful discussion by Anders Forsman (Lund, Sweden). The new paper clarifies our thoughts on why polymorphic species might be vulnerable because of the negative interactions between different morphs. Conceptually it builds from our work on the Gouldian finch and long-tailed finch.
Nestboxes for house sparrows are leaving today on their way to Armidale where they’ll be erected at a number of properties around this inland city. Hopefully they will provide welcome homes for house sparrows that will be studied as part of our research into how birds are effected by climate. The house sparrow was introduced into Australia in the 1860’s and has become widely established across a range of different climates.
The relatively high altitude of Armidale and it’s position to the west of the dividing range provides a very different climate from most of the coastal cities in Eastern Australia.
Fowlers Gap Arid Zone Research Station, where we conduct a lot of our ongoing fieldwork, has received 32mm of rain in a rain event over 7-8th May. This is a significant amount and will help to replenish the environment out there and set up a good winter and hopefully good breeding conditions for the zebra finches and chestnut-crowned babblers………