Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Evolution of bird bills: Birds reduce their 'heating bills' in cold climates

Date:
June 24, 2010
Source:
University of Melbourne
Summary:
The evolution of bird bills is related to climate, according to latest research.

This is a toco toucan, Ramphastos toco.
Credit: Glenn Tattersall

The evolution of bird bills is related to climate according to latest research by the University of Melbourne, Australia and Brock University, Canada.

Related Articles


By examining bill sizes of a diverse range of bird species around the world, researchers have found that birds with larger bills tend to be found in hot environments, whilst birds in colder environments have evolved smaller bills.

The study led by Dr Matt Symonds of the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne and Dr Glenn Tattersall of the Department of Biological Sciences at Brock University provides evidence that maintaining body temperature in a bird's natural environment may have shaped the evolution of bird bills.

The size and shape of these distinctive structures are usually explained by their role in feeding and mate attraction. However, previous research shows bird bills have a third, less appreciated function, as organs of heat exchange.

Dr Glenn Tattersall says we know, from our thermal imaging studies that birds like toucans and geese can lose a large amount of their body heat through their bills.

"Unlike humans they don't sweat but can use their bills to help reduce their body temperature if they overheat."

"We then wondered whether this function had evolutionary consequences, and sought to compare bill sizes across a whole range of species," says Dr Tattersall.

The 214 species examined comprised diverse groups including toucans, African barbets and tinkerbirds, Australian parrots, grass finches, Canadian gamebirds, penguins, gulls and terns.

"Across all species, there were strong links between bill length and both latitude, altitude and environmental temperature," Dr Matt Symonds says. "Species that have to deal with colder temperatures have smaller bills."

"This suggests that there is an evolutionary connection between the size of the birds' bills and their role in heat management," he says.

Although it's possible that large bills have evolved to help shed heat loads and prevent overheating in hot climates, we think it's more likely that cold temperatures impose a constraint on the size of bird beaks," Dr Tattersall says.

"It simply might be too much of a liability to carry around a big radiator of heat energy in a cold environment."

The research validates a 133-year-old ecological theory called Allen's rule, which predicts that animal appendages like limbs, ears, and tails are smaller in cold climates in order to minimize heat loss.

Dr Symonds says Allen's rule has never been tested with this large a group of animals and was more anecdotal.

"This is the first rigorous study of its kind to test this theory and to show that bird bills have evolved in this manner."

The paper is published online this week in the journal American Naturalist and will be in the journal's August 2010 edition.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Melbourne. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Melbourne. "Evolution of bird bills: Birds reduce their 'heating bills' in cold climates." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100623104428.htm>.
University of Melbourne. (2010, June 24). Evolution of bird bills: Birds reduce their 'heating bills' in cold climates. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100623104428.htm
University of Melbourne. "Evolution of bird bills: Birds reduce their 'heating bills' in cold climates." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100623104428.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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