3D motion capture in the study of courtship displays

In our paper “Deciphering choreographies of elaborate courtship displays of golden-collared manakins using markerless motion capture” published in Ethology (2021), we describe a method to record elaborate courtship dances recorded in the 3 dimensional space. Not only did we take all recordings in the field, also the analysis of this data set was a new challenge. We developed a way to describe the movements of golden-collared manakins while attracting their mates and untangled new parameters for studying behavioural differences between individuals.

Animation from the tracked 3D positions of a display of one of our males performing his jumps.

If you are interested to learn more about 3D motion capture and automated tracking software check out our publication here.

A) The graph shows the reconstructed movements of a whole display of a male manakin. Red dots are resting frames and the grey dots where the bird is moving. B) The drawing gives information how we fitted a parabola to the trajectories of the jumps and all the parameters we could derive from it for further analysis.

Janisch J., Perinot E., Fusani L., Quigley C. (2021). Deciphering choreographies of elaborate courtship displays of golden‐collared manakins using markerless motion capture. Ethology https://doi.org/10.1111/eth.13161

If you would like to find out more about the authors check out their profiles:

Judith Janisch

Elisa Perinot

Leonida Fusani

Cliodhna Quigley

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Expression of Interest for PostDoc Fellowships

The University of Vienna is opening an Expression of Interest (EoI) to identify candidates with the necessary profile to be successful in obtaining a MSCA European Fellowships. The EoI will allow potential fellows to identify a supervisor who can guide them in the next stage of their research career and take advantage of the support services offered at the University to help them prepare a successful proposal. The University of Vienna has again made additional funding available for the 10 top-ranked MSCA European Fellowships (top 5 male and top 5 female) awarded to the University (based on the score given by the European Commission). An additional third year of salary will be funded, allowing the fellow and supervisor to carry out additional research, publication, training or grant writing.

For further information about the Call, please visit this web site.

Read our article about bird migration in Der Standard

“Der Reiseplan der ziehenden Singvögel im Frühjahr” (The travel plan of migratory Passerines in spring) by Leonida Fusani and Ivan Maggini appeared on March 5th, 2021 in the “Tierblog: Wilde Nachbarn” (Animal Blog: Wild neighbors) of the newspaper Der Standard. You can read the article following this link.

Females ring doves prefer long courtship but low frequency calls

Our paper “Female behaviour is differentially associated with specific components of multimodal courtship in ring doves” was published in Animal Behaviour!

In this paper, we repeatedly presented females doves with courting males, and we recorded several behavioural responses. By associating female sexual response (in particular, the tail quivers) with a multitude of male courtship parameters (both acoustic and visual), we could show that females seemed to be more attracted by males courting for a long time, but with several short courtship bouts. Also, females preferred males that displayed low frequency calls.

If you want to know more, you can access our paper here.

Clémentine Mitoyen, Cliodhna Quigley, Thibault Boehly and Leonida Fusani (2021). Female behaviour is differentially associated with specific components of multimodal courtship in ring doves. Animal Behaviour, 173, 21-39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2020.12.014

Show me how you sleep and I will tell you how much heat you lose

Sleeping with the head tucked into the feathers is probably one of the oldest known avian behaviors. Although it has been recently shown that birds can reduce their metabolic rate by displaying this posture, the energetic benefit of putting the head under the feathers has never been quantified yet. Through the use of infra-red thermographic imaging and a within-individual approach, we compared the heat dissipation of birds sleeping in different postures at a Mediterranean stopover site during spring migration.

If you want to know more about the amount of energy that you can save by tucking your head into your feathers while sleeping, you can access the paper following this link.

Head of Biochemistry Laboratory at FIWI

We seek highly motivated applicants with a PhD in Biochemistry or related disciplines and experience in multiple methodologies (protein purification, western blots, enzyme assays, hormone analyses, GC-MS, HPLC), preferably related to animal physiology. Previous experience in managing a laboratory, overseeing technicians and training students is desirable. Duties include designing and validating methods to analyse compounds in biological samples (e.g., fatty acids, pheromones and other volatiles, extraction and purification of hormones from plasma and tissue samples, enzymatic activity, diet composition, nutritional analyses). Our research addresses basic and applied questions in ecology and behavior in a variety of vertebrate species. We will consider applicants at different career stages, and we welcome candidates interested in pursuing their own research within the research goals of the department.

Job Details

Type of Contract:                    Temporary (2 years) with possibility of extension

Status:                                     Full-time

Hours per week:                      40

Institute:                                  Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology

Country:                                  Austria

Organisation/Institute Contact Data

Department:                            Department of Interdisciplinary Life Sciences

E-Mail:                                     walter.arnold@vetmeduni.ac.at

Phone:                                     +43 1 250 77 7100

Web:                                        www.vetmeduni.ac.at/fiwi

Monthly gross salary starts from EUR 3,889.50 (14 months/year), and can be increased depending on previous experience.

Please send you application with the reference 2020/1021 via Email to bewerbungen@vetmeduni.ac.at or by mail to Personnel Office, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Veterinaerplatz 1, 1210 Vienna, Austria

Application deadline:                        November 7th, 2020

Out of Africa: who’s running ahead?

Changes in migration timing of birds depend on where they spend the winter

Climate change is affecting living organisms in the most disparate ways. In Europe, earlier springs caused an advance in the emergence of insects, which in turn affected the timing of breeding of insectivorous birds. By breeding earlier, they make sure that they will have enough prey to feed their young. Many migratory birds, however, are unable to track favourable conditions in their European breeding areas because they spend the winter thousands of kilometers away, in Africa. Their internal clocks stimulate them to leave their wintering grounds at the appropriate time, but will they be able to adapt to the changing conditions well enough to avoid a mismatch with the peak of prey? In the last 20-30 years, many studies have tried to assess the degree to which migratory birds advance their arrival at the breeding grounds in the spring. The ones that fared better were species that winter North of the Sahara, while those wintering South of the desert seemed to be unable to adjust their travel dates. Interestingly, these species are also very often declining in Europe. Can the cause of their decline be the inability to adjust migration timing? We investigated migration timing in the central Mediterranean to get a better picture. The island of Ponza is situated in the Tyrrhenian Sea, about 50 km away from the Italian coast. A large proportion of central and North European migratory Passerines makes a stop on this island to recover from a nearly 500 km long sea crossing. In collaboration with the crew on Ponza, we analyzed the passage dates of the 30 most commonly captured species across the last 18 years of research on the island. We found that while an advance of migration was the general pattern observed, the species wintering in the Sahel belt were advancing their passage more pronouncedly than those wintering further South, in the tropical forests of Africa. There might be two explanations for this phenomenon: either the conditions in the Sahel are improving, allowing birds to prepare for migration faster and thus leave earlier, or conditions along the route are fostering faster migration. Revealing which one of these scenarios is the most likely is the next step that will help understand whether migratory birds will be able to adapt to climate change in the future. We are working on these questions studying the birds’ physiology and behaviour on Ponza and in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, and will hopefully be able to shed light on this important issue in the near future.

Read our findings published in PLOS ONE in September 2020 here.

Ig Nobel Prize Winners 2020

On September 17th, 2020 one of our lab members, Judith Janisch, together with colleagues Prof. Dr. Tecumseh Fitch of the University of Vienna, Dr. Stephan Reber from the University of Lund, Mark Robertson from Florida, US, and Dr. Takeshi Nishimura from Kyoto University, Japan, won an Ig Nobel prize in Acoustics for making a Chinese alligator bellow in Heliox. The study, conducted by Judith while she was a Master student at the Department of Behavioural and Cognitive Biology, revealed that the vocalizations of alligators contain resonances which we also find in mammals and birds, but not in Amphibians. Published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in 2015, this was the first experiment showing that non-avian reptiles produce sound from vibrations in the vocal tract, also known as formants.

Judith with an american alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) at the St. Agustine Alligator Farm, Florida, US, where the heliox study was carried out.






Transcriptome of the migratory Common quail

Our publication on the de novo brain transcriptome of the migratory Common quail is now out in its final form in Data in Brief:

In this article, we developed a high quality pipeline for compiling transcriptomes of complex non-genomic species. Our data not only can provide a robust reference for gene expression studies in migratory birds but will also be useful for studies in related Galliforms, including the Japanese quail, a recognised model in behavioural neuroendocrinology and physiology research.

quaglia_in_canto_GianniPola@Photo credit: Gianni Pola

Manakins adapt their courtship display to environmental disruptions

In the rainforests of Panama we find these attractive birds called golden-collared manakins. From the middle of January until June males spend a lot of time dancing in their own arena built between young trees, so called saplings, on the forest floor to attract females. Since their courtship dance seems like a well-practiced choreography, with incredibly fast jumps and flips and loud “snap”- sounds that they produce with their wings, we wanted to see what will happen if we disturb their dancing routine. Maybe they would leave their well-prepared arenas and display somewhere else? Or would they modify their choreography?

So we went out in the tropical forests and started filming (check out the video!) and observed the males in their daily routines to attract females. Once we had recorded their choreography, we placed a big piece of natural bark on the mating sapling within the males’ arenas, the sapling where all the mating occurs. This resembled a natural event, i.e. a fallen branch, that could happen every day in the rainforest. We filmed and observed the males for 4 consecutive days.  At first, the males seemed very annoyed and spent a lot of time looking at the bark that was lying in their arena as they were unable to display their well-established choreography. Then they started to display by using the remaining accessible saplings of their arena and some males even managed to attract females again with their new display sequences. On the 5th day, we took the bark away again and the males peaked their courtship activity, many went back to their well-studied and long-used courtship routine but some males included the new jumping sequence that they had established during our test period.

Our results suggest that elaborate courtship displays of manakins have motor sequence learning as an underlying mechanism. Although males are flexible in building a choreography, they need time to develop new routines. This is a first insight into the role of learning in the development of elaborate courtship displays. Stay tuned for more results!

Click here to access the online version of the paper (free download!)

Judith Janisch, MSc

Elisa Perinot, MSc

Leonida Fusani, PhD