A curious case: The Color of Baby Coots.

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Why do American Coot chicks who develop into mainly greyish-black birds as adults begin their lives with such a splash of color? 1

That is a question a team of biologists have been asking for quite some time and, as is typical in science, the answer was not what they first expected. Previous studies conducted by this same laboratory concluded that coot parents preferentially feed chicks that display brighter coloration. The goal of the present study was to determine why this was the case.

The researchers noted that coots lay between 8-10 eggs and these eggs hatch in the order they were laid. Additionally coots are nest predators and lay eggs in other coots nests. One hypothesis was that the chicks hatched from predatory eggs were the more brightly colored chicks and thus would have gotten fed more. This turned out to be false. The researchers discovered that the chicks hatched from the latter laid eggs were the more brightly colored. Typically chicks hatched latter in a brood have to catch-up to their larger siblings if they are to survive. The researcher noted that if these smaller and brightly colored latecomers survived the parents would use their coloration as a way to preferentially feed these chicks more and allow them to catch-up to their earlier siblings. 2

A wonderful survial strategy reveled in a nicely done study. Hat’s off to science and to the coot.

References:

1. University of California – Santa Cruz. “The mysterious case of the ornamented coot chicks has a surprising explanation: The bright colors of the chicks of American coots help their parents choose favorites, according to a new study.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 December 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191231111817.htm.

2. Bruce E. Lyon, Daizaburo Shizuka. Extreme offspring ornamentation in American coots is favored by selection within families, not benefits to conspecific brood parasites. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201913615 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1913615117

 

Statistic of the decade

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As this decade comes to a close we ran across an interesting statistic produced by the Royal Statistical Society in the UK. In fact it was the societies statistic of the decade and one that is nothing to write home about-deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
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The estimated accumulated deforestation of the Amazon being equivalent to around 8.4 million football pitches or about 24,000 square miles. In a decade!

A recent article in the Conversation provides further insight into this statistic describing some of the more obvious consequences of this deforestation and rebutting arguments that conversion of the rainforest to ranching, resource extraction and farming is required for economic benefits of nations and the people within those nations. In fact there is data to suggest that if left alone the economic benefits of the amazon rainforest outweigh its destruction for short-term profits. However, another recent article suggests the worst is yet to come in the deforestation of the Amazon. With the cost of  reforestation at over $2,000 an acre cost alone, not to mention political forces, make restoration less likely day by day.rae_8

The amazon rainforest has been called the lungs of the earth breathing in carbon dioxide and stabilizing the earth’s climate and exhaling oxygen-oxygen that fuels life animal life in all its myriad forms.

  • One in ten known species on our planet including over 2,000 species of animals and probably more plant species than can be counted.
  • Half of the earths remaining tropical rain forests.
  • Over 4,000 river
  • Over 2.6 million square miles.

A grim statistic to have won the honor of statistic of the decade but one we ought to heed as we move forward into the next.

It is hard to appreciate this fact for us living far from the Amazon in places already striped of natural landscapes.  However, when we drive past a once fertile farm field just down the road now being plowed over for a new round of strip malls we get an inkling of what the future holds. A planet impoverished for the enrichment of a few, until it all falls apart.

Perhaps the statistic of the next decade in 2030 will something like this “the decade humanity work together to solve the climate crisis for the good of all”.I know it’s not really a statistic but we will be able to quantify the results and turn that into the next statistic of the decade.

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More Dried Fruit

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Cedar Waxwings picking over the same patch of dried berries that the Robins found appealing in yesterdays post. We only see the Waxwings for a week each year and only in the fall. This year they were right on schedule and arrived sometime during the last week of November and had departed by last weekends walk through the woods.

Success Stories: National Geographic

More good news stories for 2019 this time from National Geographic in an article titled “Wildlife wins: 7 good-news stories from 2019“. The article begins with an all to often heard hours of

Optimism can be in short supply when it comes to wildlife and conservation.

Going on describe several events that are disconcerting to those who consider conservation a worthy cause including the following events:

Masai giraffes were declared endangered, fires in the Amazon devastated jaguars, turtles, and other wildlife, and cheetah researchers accused of spying were sentenced to years in prison in Iran. Demand for wildlife and wildlife products—such as pet turtles, lion bone, and shatoosh, scarves made from the fleece of rare Tibetan antelopes—is thought to be on the rise”

Conversely and giving us a bit of hope the main focus of the article presents several key victories in the conservation of species and preservation of wildlife around the globe. Another article that both gives hope yet points that there is still no reason take pause in the fight for conservation of non-human life on the planet.

Success stories: Audubon Society

While this past year has felt like one negative story after another with respect to environmental and conservation news there are successes to be recognized and accomplishments lauded.

The national Audubon Society recently published a list of their success stories for this year that will bring a little cheer to a birders holiday season.

Successes occurred on numerous fronts including clean energy projects, local conservation measures, increasing awareness for endangered bird species, protection of habitats and several others all of which are detailed here.

For me the Audubon report entitled “Survival by Degrees” will stand out as a crowning accomplishment. It is bringing widespread awareness to how climate change will endanger up to 389 bird species in North America and was widely reported on in the media.

Yes, there is good news to be found and reading it felt like a much needed gift from Santa himself.

Wishing you all a very Happy Holidays.