fusanilab

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.

www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/09/ig-nobel-prizes-reward-research-helium-huffing-alligators-and-knives-made-feces

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/18/us/ig-nobel-awards-alligator-helium-scli-scn-intl/index.html

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54197198

https://science.orf.at/stories/3201801/

https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000120092616/forscher-aus-oesterreich-gewinnen-einen-ig-nobelpreis

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

Migratory Shrikes prey on other migrating songbirds during trans-Saharan crossing

Shrikes (family Laniidae) are small songbirds that are notorious for the gruesome habit of attacking, impaling and consuming vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, snakes, rodents and sometimes other songbirds. However the Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator pictured above), being among the smallest and most migratory species of the family, is not known for this behavior on its breeding or wintering grounds, and is seemingly content with an amicable diet of arthropods. However, at a spring stopover site in the Sahara desert, we began to notice that it too aggressively chases and sometimes kills songbirds that are also in the midst of their migration. We found evidence that only the weakest among migrating songbirds (gauged by body condition) fall victims to this seemingly opportunistic diet switch by Woodchat Shrikes. We suggest that the debilitating desert crossing renders some individuals easier to capture, perhaps explaining why it is not commonly observed during sedentary periods. Stopover is really a dynamic time for songbirds, and you can read a little more in our publication found here.   

  

A Common Redstart impaled by a Woodchat Shrike during migration. From its ring we know its body condition prior to predation- this one was in very poor condition, probably contributing to its capture by the shrike.

MSc project in behavioural biology and migratory bird physiology

We are looking for a motivated Master/Diploma student who would like to gain experience and knowledge on migratory physiology and behavioural biology. The student will be based in the Fusani’s lab a highly vibrant and constantly expanding research environment.

The student’s work will be part of a FWF-funded project on the role of environmental stress in the expression of migratory behaviour using the Common quail as our study species. The work will be performed from July 2020 until November 2020 at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology. The working language is English. Previous experience with birds is very welcome but not necessary.

The student will have the opportunity to be involved in all the experimental phases, will be thought how to perform animal experiments in laboratory conditions, to take morphological and physiological measurements, as well as laboratory sample processing procedures. The student will also have the opportunity to learn the use of various methods to monitor time-budget behaviours (e.g. accelerometers). The student will be part of  our large research group with the opportunity to expand knowledge on different topics from animal behaviour and cognitive sciences, animal physiology, bird migration, molecular biology and genomics.

Get in touch for further information on the project. Dr Valeria Marasco, email: valeria.marasco@vetmeduni.ac.at (Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology).

Corticosterone in feathers is affected by tropical forest management

In a collaborative project with several labs, we found that glucocorticoid hormones are potential mediators of carry‐over effects on population abundance linked to forest management. The study was conducted on a series of species in the tropical forests of Borneo, and involved measurement of corticosterone in feathers which was conducted in our endocrinology laboratory. The article was published in Functional Ecology.

Simone Messina, the first author of the paper, worked in our endocrinology laboratory to measure corticosterone in the feathers collected in Borneo.


Stopover strategies of 12 passerines on Ponza

Small coastal islands are known to birdwatchers because they attract large numbers of migrants at the appropriate time of the year. Many of these islands are especially fruitful during bad weather conditions, because they act as safe havens for birds that have to interrupt their flight. In Italy, a handful of islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea are also attracting thousands of migrants during spring migration, but their peculiarity is that they do so even when there is no weather emergency. We analyzed ringing data from our station on Ponza to investigate what might be the reason to stop there for so many birds. On Ponza, we can reach tips of 1500-2000 individual birds caught in one single day! By looking at the body mass data at first capture and at recapture data we hoped to determine whether birds stopping on Ponza might do so to refuel their depleted energies after the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. We analyzed 12 different species and we consistently found very low recapture rates (below 2% of the birds were ever recaptured), indicating that most birds stay on Ponza just for a very short time. Of the birds that were recaptured, we noticed that these were mostly carrying less fat than the average for their species. This means that a stop on Ponza was forced when birds had too low energy stores for continuing their flight. However, only in two species (Subalpine Warblers and Common Chiffchaffs) birds were actually able to increase their fat stores during the stay on Ponza. In all other species, birds staying on Ponza did not manage to add body mass. In conclusion, it appears that generally stopping on these islands for refuelling is not convenient, so the question remains open: why do so many birds stop on these islands at all, considering that the mainland is just an extra hour or two away? We believe that birds need a short stop, possibly just for a nap, after the long sea crossing, and islands are a safest place for that than the mainland, especially when they lack predators. Read our article here!