Picky fruit-eating birds are more flexible
Frankfurt am Main/ Leipzig. Researchers from Senckenberg and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research have found that South American birds that are seasonally specialized on particular fruit types are the most flexible in switching to different fruit types in other seasons. This flexibility in their diet is good news in view of the predicted loss of plant species under global change. The study is now published in ‘Journal of Animal Ecology’. It was supported by the iDiv flexpool and others.
The Plumbeous pigeon is a picky eater. Whereas its relatives on European streets and squares feed on whatever they encounter, its South American relative almost exclusively feeds on certain fruits. Together with other birds such as toucans or the turkey-like guans it belongs to a bunch of large fruit-eating birds that are specialized on particular types of fruits. One might think that being peculiar goes hand-in-hand with being inflexible in food choice – however, it does not.
“We compared neotropic fruit-eating birds that are specialized on a small range of fruit resources in a particular season with birds that eat a large ranege of fruits. The specialists are those which are most flexible in adapting their foraging choices across seasons”, explains Irene Bender, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), lead author of a new study on this topic. She adds “The flexible avian fruit eaters prefer to feed on large fruits. However, their favourite resources are not constantly available throughout the year which forces them to switch.”
The researchers’ surprising observations shed light on the question how species might respond to resource fluctuations that are not naturally determined. “This flexibility of consumer species may be an important, but so far widely neglected mechanism that could stabilize consumer-resource relationships, for instance in response to human disturbance and environmental change. Being flexible might mean that specialized foragers are able to adapt to future changes in resource availability.” says Dr. Matthias Schleuning, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre.
The study was based on observational records by a team around Irene Bender and Matthias Dehling of the fruit choices of birds in the Manú Biosphere Reserve on the western slopes of the Andes in Peru. The team also measured traits of the plants which provided the fruits, such as plant height and fruit size. The flexibility of bird species was defined as their ability to switch seasonally among plant species with different traits; their specialization was measured by comparing their fruit choices to those of other bird species in the community.
Irene M.A. Bender
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre &
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (idiv)
Phone +49 (0)69- 7542 1875
PD Dr. Matthias Schleuning
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
Phone +49 (0)69- 7542 1892
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
Phone +49 (0)69- 7542 1818 Sabine.firstname.lastname@example.org
Bender, I.M.A. et al. (2017): Functionally specialised birds respond flexibly to seasonal changes in fruit availability. Journal of Animal Ecology, doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12683
The study was supported by the iDiv flexpool, University of Amsterdam, LOEWE, Royal Society of New Zealand, DAAD and others.
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To study and understand nature with its limitless diversity of living creatures and to preserve and manage it in a sustainable fashion as the basis of life for future generations – this has been the goal of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (Senckenberg Nature Research Society) for 200 years. This integrative “geobiodiversity research” and the dissemination of research and science are among Senckenberg’s main tasks. Three nature museums in Frankfurt, Görlitz and Dresden display the diversity of life and the earth’s development over millions of years. The Senckenberg Nature Research Society is a member of the Leibniz Association. The Senckenberg Nature Museum in Frankfurt am Main is supported by the City of Frankfurt am Main as well as numerous other partners. Additional information can be found at www.senckenberg.de.
200 years of Senckenberg! 2017 marks Senckenberg’s anniversary year. For 200 years, the society, which was founded in 1817, has dedicated itself to nature research with curiosity, passion and involvement. Senckenberg will celebrate its 200-year success story with a colorful program consisting of numerous events, specially designed exhibitions and a grand museum party in the fall. Of course, the program also involves the presentation of current research and future projects. Additional information can be found at: www.200jahresenckenberg.
iDiv is a central facility of Leipzig University within the meaning of Section 92 (1) of the Act on Academic Freedom in Higher Education in Saxony (Sächsisches Hochschulfreiheitsgesetz, SächsHSFG). It is run together with the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, as well as in cooperation with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ.
The following non-university research institutions are involved as cooperation partners: the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (MPI BGC), the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology (MPI CE), the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI EVA), the Leibniz Institute DSMZ–German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures, the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry (IPB), the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) and the Leibniz Institute Senckenberg Museum of Natural History Görlitz (SMNG). www.idiv.de