Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Love at first smell: Can birds choose mates by their odors?

28.11.2014

Mate choice is often the most important decision in the lives of humans and animals. Scientists at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology at the Vetmeduni Vienna have found the first evidence that birds may choose their mate through odor.

The researchers compared the preen gland chemicals of black-legged kittiwakes with genes that play a role in immunity. Kittiwakes that smell similarly to each other also have similar genes for immunity. Since the birds prefer to mate with unrelated mates, the scientists have now found the likely mechanism by which they recognize relatedness. The scientists published their findings in Nature’s Scientific Reports.


Kittiwakes choose their partners wisely. The smell seems to play an important role.

Photo: Joel White

It has long been understood that reproducing with close relatives may have profoundly negative effects on offspring. It is therefore not surprising that biologists have discovered in some species that breeding individuals have evolved ways to detect their genetic similarity with those of prospective partners. Over 20 years ago it was discovered that female mice were able to choose unrelated over related males as mates.

Females achieved this by comparing the smell of the urine of each male and comparing it with their own odors. Amazingly, the urine odors reflected the genetic composition of each mouse. More specifically, the odors were correlated with a special group of genes called the “major histocompatiabilty complex”, or MHC, which helps individuals resist diseases. Thus, by pairing with MHC-dissimilar mates, breeders produce offspring with a more diverse collection of disease-resistant genes.

This discovery in mice was followed by similar findings in other mammals. More recently it has been shown that birds in several species also avoid breeding with MHC-similar mates. This poses a mystery. Whereas smell is a very well developed sense in mammals, it has long been thought that birds lack such keen olfactory abilities.

Although a growing body of research is showing that birds can discriminate odors more than previously thought, none had shown that birds can do as mammals and use odor to compare their MHC composition with that of prospective mates. This mystery appears to have been solved by a group of researchers from Austria and France.

Team leader Richard H. Wagner and behavioral geneticist Wouter van Dongen of the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, a part of the Veterinary Medicine University Vienna, have been collabortating with French colleagues on a long-term study of a cliff-nesting gull, the black-legged kittiwake, breeding in Anchorage Bay, Alaska.

When birds groom themselves with their bills, they spread chemical compounds from their preen glands throughout their plumage. These chemicals produce odors that appear to be unique to each individual, providing an olfactory fingerprint. The team suspected that, just as in mammals, these odors may be used by kittiwakes to assess their relatedness to other individuals.

To test this idea, the researchers collected both DNA samples and preen gland odor samples from nesting kittiwakes. The project then entailed two kinds of laboratory work: while Sarah Leclaire at the University of Toulouse conducted the analyses of the preen gland chemicals to characterise the odor signatures of each individual, van Dongen analyzed the MHC of the kittiwakes in the Vienna lab.

The team had previously discovered that kittiwakes avoided pairing with relatives, but the mechanism by which the birds recognized their relatedness to each other had remained unknown until now. Their new finding is that individual kittiwakes that smell similarly to each other (i.e. have similar preen gland chemicals) also have similar MHC genes. Closer relatives therefore have more similar odors than distantly related individuals.

This suggests that birds may be able to compare their own odor with those of potential mates, and to choose unrelated individuals as breeding partners. Quips ornithologist Wagner, “the more research that is performed on smell, the more it appears that anything mammals can do, birds can do too.” The new findings, moreover, open the door for further work linking mate choice and disease-resistance in birds.

The Nature Publishing Group has just published the paper “Preen secretions encode information on MHC similarity in certain sex-dyads in a monogamous seabird” by Sarah Leclaire, Wouter F. D. van Dongen, Steeve Voccia, Thomas Merkling, Christine Ducamp, Scott A. Hatch, Pierrick Blanchard, Étienne Danchin & Richard H. Wagner in its online journal Scientific Reports. doi:10.1038/srep06920 http://www.nature.com/srep/2014/141105/srep06920/full/srep06920.html

About the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,300 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. http://www.vetmeduni.ac.at 

Scientific Contact:
Richard Wagner
Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna)
T +43 1 25077-7331
richard.wagner@vetmeduni.ac.at

Released by:
Susanna Kautschitsch
Science Communication / Public Relations
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna)
T +43 1 25077-1153
susanna.kautschitsch@vetmeduni.ac.at


Weitere Informationen:

http://www.vetmeduni.ac.at/en/infoservice/presseinformation/press-releases-2014/love-at-first-smell-can-birds-choose-mates-by-their-odors/

Dr. Susanna Kautschitsch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Veterinary Veterinary Medicine chemicals genes kittiwakes

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>