G Pavlovic, MA Weston, MRE Symonds (2019) Morphology and geography predict the use of heat conservation behaviours across birds. Functional Ecology 33: 286-296.
What’s it about? We conducted a big comparative analysis of 825-odd bird species looking at their use of three heat conservation behaviours: back rest (bill tucking, where the bill is nestled into the plumage at rest), standing on one leg (a very idiosyncratic bird behaviour) and sitting. How common are these behaviours? Well, certainly not ubiquitous – only between a third to a half of species use them. Additionally, it’s found more commonly in some lineages (e.g. waterfowl) than others, indicating a phylogenetic pattern. Finally, birds that live at higher latitudes (i.e. in cooler climates) and that have longer beaks and legs are also more likely to use back rest and standing on one leg – indicating that climate (perhaps unsurprisingly ) and morphology determines use of the behaviours.
What’s the story behind it? Huge amounts of work by Gabby Pavlovic, honours student of mine and Mike Weston. The main issue here was getting data on birds that DON’T use the behaviours. You don’t, after all, get published reports on the absence of behaviours like these. Consequently Gabby instigated an enormous survey of ornithological experts to ask them whether they had ever observed ‘their’ bird species using the behaviours. She then had to relate the information gathered to geographical species range data and morphology. It was, on reflection, way too ambitious a project for an honours project, and yet Gabby came up trumps as this final output in Functional Ecology, which kind of acts as a sequel to an earlier paper in the same journal.
[…] first is Gabby Pavlovic’s excellent comparative study on use of heat conservation behaviours in birds, showing that latitude, and bill and leg size […]