GJ Tattersall, B Arnaout, MRE Symonds (2017) The evolution of the avian bill as a thermoregulatory organ. Biological Reviews 92: 1630-1656

What’s it about?

A review of what we know about how birds use their bills to keep cool and regulate their body temperature. It covers everything you might want to know about bill anatomy, development and physiology in relation to thermoregulation, and then investigates the ecological and evolutionary consequences of these roles – touching on aspects such as Allen’s rule (which explains the tendency for bills to be smaller in colder environments), phenotypic plasticity, and the possible effects of climate change on bird bill evolution.

What’s the story behind it?

Glenn Tattersall, an old friend from PhD days, has been working for many years on all sorts of aspects associated with animal thermoregulation (check out the link to his webpages). Most remarkably he has clearly shown (in toucans, and other less obviously ‘showy’ birds such as song sparrows), that birds use their bills as thermal radiators. Back in 2010 we had a paper that employed a comparative approach showing that one consequence of this thermoregulatory function is that bird species that live in hot climates tend to have evolved larger bills. Late in 2015, Glenn contacted me saying “hey I’m writing a review of bird bills and thermoregulation – would you like to contribute some stuff on Allen’s rule and the link between climate and bill size”. Craftily, he sent through an effectively very complete draft, just with a few choice sections not completed, ready for my input. How could I refuse?


3 responses »

  1. […] Matt has been working again with his old friend and collaborator, Glenn Tattersall, on a review about the evolution of bird bills as thermoregulatory organs, which has been accepted by Biological Reviews, following some very nice comments by the reviewers (nice to know that the review process isn’t always painful!). It’s great to work on such an interesting topic that perhaps people don’t think too much about. Attending the ISBE meeting in Exeter in July, I was struck by the number of bird behavioural biologists who said “it’s never occurred to me that birds use their bills for that”. So if you are one of those people, this review is for you. You can find out more about the review here. […]

  2. gtattersall says:

    It is always enjoyable working with Matt, and our interests/background complement one another on this topic so well.

  3. […] I started working on the role of bird bills in thermoregulation and the relationship between climate and bill size, I was always being asked “so is this why […]

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