Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Birds Beware! Pinecones Armed And Dangerous

Date:
July 9, 1999
Source:
Ecological Society Of America
Summary:
A weekend hiker might reach for a pine cone from the forest floor, only to be rewarded by a prick from its sharp spines. It is interesting to learn that birds and other forest creatures face the same dilemma when feeding on the seeds that these cones harbor. A new study found that pine cones, which bear the progeny of their parent tree, have evolved highly specialized ways to ward off predators, ensuring the dispersal of their seeds.

A weekend hiker might reach for a pine cone from the forest floor, only to be rewarded by a prick from its sharp spines. It is interesting to learn that birds and other forest creatures face the same dilemma when feeding on the seeds that these cones harbor. A new study found that pine cones, which bear the progeny of their parent tree, have evolved highly specialized ways to ward off predators, ensuring the dispersal of their seeds.

The study, published in the June issue of Ecology, focuses on the evolutionary importance and modern function of spine development in pine cones. The study is novel because it combines both experimental data and analysis of evolutionary development to answer the question of why pine cones develop spines.

Kimberly Coffey, Craig Benkman and Brook Milligan from New Mexico State University, investigated the relationship between pine cones and the foraging efficiency of a finch, the Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra).

The researchers removed spines from some open and closed ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and open Table Mountain pine (Pinus pungens) cones. Other cones were left with their spines intact.

Crossbills were then allowed to eat seeds from the different types of cones, and the time taken for birds to successfully acquire a seed was recorded. In the open pine cones without spines, crossbills could remove a seed much more quickly than when spines were present. It took 18-34% more time for birds to get a seed from the spiny pine cones. They found that spines on pine cones made it difficult for birds to perch on the cone. Spines also impeded crossbills when they tried to reach for seeds between the cone scales.

By studying the evolutionary development of spines on pine cones, the researchers also found that the amount of spine growth has co-evolved with the length of time seeds remain in open pine cones. Therefore, in open pine cones where seeds stay longer, a greater degree of spine growth is observed. This finding answered the question of whether spines developed as a predatory defense, and were not just a welcome side effect.

"We believe," says Benkman, "that Red Crossbills' bodies have adapted over time to become more successful pine cone predators." Modifications such as stronger legs and reshaped mouthparts allow the finches greater perching and seed retrieval skills. Many other predators would have less success obtaining seeds, making the pine cones' defenses even more effective.

"The most significant element of this study," says the researcher, "is the integration of experimental results and analysis of evolutionary development. Combining these elements allows us to more effectively answer ecological questions which were previously difficult to explain."

###

Ecology is a peer-reviewed journal published eight times a year by the Ecological Society of America (ESA). Copies of the above article are available free of charge to the press through the Society's Public Affairs Office. Members of the press may also obtain copies of ESA's entire family of publications, which includes Ecology, Ecological Applications, Ecological Monographs, and Conservation Ecology. Others interested in copies of articles should contact the Reprint Department at the address in the masthead.

Founded in 1915, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a scientific, non-profit, organization with over 7000 members. Through ESA reports, journals, membership research, and expert testimony to Congress, ESA seeks to promote the responsible application of ecological data and principles to the solution of environmental problems. For more information about the Society and its activities, access ESA's web site at: http://esa.sdsc.edu


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ecological Society Of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Ecological Society Of America. "Birds Beware! Pinecones Armed And Dangerous." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 July 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/07/990709082804.htm>.
Ecological Society Of America. (1999, July 9). Birds Beware! Pinecones Armed And Dangerous. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/07/990709082804.htm
Ecological Society Of America. "Birds Beware! Pinecones Armed And Dangerous." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/07/990709082804.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How to Make Single Serving Smoothies: Howdini Hacks

How to Make Single Serving Smoothies: Howdini Hacks

Howdini (July 24, 2014) Smoothies are a great way to get in lots of healthy ingredients, plus they taste great! Howdini has a trick for making the perfect single-size smoothie that will save you time on cleanup too! All you need is a blender and a mason jar. Video provided by Howdini
Powered by NewsLook.com
Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) An 8-year-old boy is bitten in the leg by a shark while vacationing at a Florida beach. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Newsy (July 24, 2014) A new study claims a set of prehistoric T-Rex footprints supports the theory that the giant predators hunted in packs instead of alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins