Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Maybe birds can have it all: Dazzling colors and pretty songs

Date:
June 18, 2014
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
A study of one of the world’s largest and most colorful bird families has dispelled a long-held notion, first proposed by Charles Darwin, that animals are limited in their options to evolve showiness. "Animals have limited resources, and they have to spend those in order to develop showy plumage or precision singing that help them attract mates and defend territories," said the paper's lead author. "So it seems to make sense that you can't have both. But our study took a more detailed look and suggests that actually, some species can."

Tanagers are among the most spectacularly colorful birds in the world.
Credit: Image courtesy of Cornell University

A study of one of the world's largest and most colorful bird families has dispelled a long-held notion, first proposed by Charles Darwin, that animals are limited in their options to evolve showiness. The study -- the largest of its kind -- was published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The natural world is full of showstoppers -- birds with brilliant colors, exaggerated crests and tails, intricate dance routines, or virtuosic singing. But it's long been thought that these abilities are the result of trade-offs. For a species to excel in one area, it must give up its edge in another. For example, male Northern Cardinals are a dazzling scarlet but sing a fairly simple whistle, whereas the dull brown House Wren sings one of the most complicated songs in nature.

"Animals have limited resources, and they have to spend those in order to develop showy plumage or precision singing that help them attract mates and defend territories," said Nick Mason, the paper's lead author. "So it seems to make sense that you can't have both. But our study took a more detailed look and suggests that actually, some species can." Mason did the research as a master's student at San Diego State University. He is now a Ph.D. student at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Mason and his colleagues tested the idea of trade-offs by looking at a very large family of songbirds from Central and South America, the tanagers. This group consists of 371 species -- nearly 10 percent of all songbirds. It includes some of the most spectacularly colorful birds in the world such as the Paradise Tanager as well as more drab birds such the Black-bellied Seedeater. The group also includes both accomplished and weak songsters alike.

"If there were going to be any group of birds at all that would show this trade-off, the tanagers would be a very good candidate, because there's all this variation in song and plumage complexity," Mason said, noting that the group's large size lends confidence to the statistical analysis. "But when we dive into it and do some rigorous statistics, it turns out that there is no overall trend. Tanagers can be drab and plain-sounding, or colorful and musical, or anything in between."

As a byproduct of the analyses, Mason was able to put together top-10 lists of tanagers with the most colorful plumage and the most complex songs. The lists -- which are available at: www.bit.ly/top10tanagers -- help illustrate the overall lack of a trade-off between singing and plumage. For example, a single genus of mountain-tanagers had members on both lists. The Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager ranked eighth among the most complex songs, while the Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager had the fourth most complex plumage of all 303 species examined.

The study puts a significant dent in the idea of evolutionary trade-offs between plumage and song. It's still possible that trade-offs take place at the level of genus, Mason said, or that they influence species relatively fleetingly as evolutionary pressures appear and disappear. But as a broad effect on an entire family of birds, a voice-plumage tradeoff doesn't seem to exist. One possibility is that the resources needed to develop fancy plumage are different from the ones required for complex songs, freeing tanagers to invest in both forms of showiness simultaneously.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. The original article was written by Joe Schwartz. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. N. A. Mason, A. J. Shultz, K. J. Burns. Elaborate visual and acoustic signals evolve independently in a large, phenotypically diverse radiation of songbirds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2014; 281 (1788): 20140967 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0967

Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Maybe birds can have it all: Dazzling colors and pretty songs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140618142614.htm>.
Cornell University. (2014, June 18). Maybe birds can have it all: Dazzling colors and pretty songs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 14, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140618142614.htm
Cornell University. "Maybe birds can have it all: Dazzling colors and pretty songs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140618142614.htm (accessed September 14, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) — A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spinosaurus Could Be First Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

Spinosaurus Could Be First Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — New research has shown that the Spinosaurus, the largest carnivorous dinosaur, might have been just as well suited for life in the water as on land. 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