Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Researchers show environmental changes may affect vital cooperate bird behaviors

While scientists believe that climate change and related extreme weather events such as drought and flooding will likely affect the earth's flora and fauna, just how much is not known. A new study by researchers Walter Jetz from Yale University and Dustin Rubenstein from Columbia University however shows an important link between the natural variation in climate conditions and complex behaviors among birds.

The study, which appears in print in Current Biology on Jan. 11, 2011, has implications for understanding how organisms may respond behaviorally to increased climate variability resulting from climate change. They argue that species that live in families may be better guarded against the effects of unpredictable climatic conditions.

Family-living, or cooperative breeding, is common among birds. Cooperative breeding societies, such as humans, are typically characterized by groups of relatives that work together to raise young. Usually, some birds forgo their own reproduction to help raise others' offspring. However, some cooperative breeding societies consist of groups of non-relatives that also work together in raising young. From Australia to the Amazon, cooperatively breeding birds account for approximately 831 species—or nearly 10 percent—of the nearly 10,000 avian species worldwide.

Using a behavioral data set of more than 95 percent of the world's birds, and a global 40-year climate dataset, the researchers examined how environmental factors—like mean and variation in temperature and rainfall—and biotic factors—like body mass, diet breadth and type—influence the incidence and global distribution of family-living in birds.

"Scientists have long known that family-living birds are more common in some parts of the world than others," said Rubenstein, assistant professor of ecology, evolution & environmental biology. "But this is the first time that we have been able to study the geographic distribution of complex avian social behavior on a global scale, while simultaneously examining how the environment influences these geographic patterns."

By combining behavioral and climate data in a statistical modeling framework the researchers found dramatic spatial and environmental variation in social behavior globally. "We discovered 'hot-spots' in places like Australia and Africa where family-living species are overrepresented, as well as 'cold-spots' in places like South and Central America where there are fewer family-living species than we would have expected," said Jetz. This geographic unevenness coincided with the occurrence of specific bird lineages, but also carried a strong signal of environmental and biotic factors. In particular, among year variation, or climatic uncertainty, in rainfall emerged as a key predictor of family-living in birds.

The study demonstrates that even on a global scale, the incidence of complex avian social behavior may be greatly influenced by the consequences of living in unpredictable environments. Variable environments encompass a broad range of climate conditions that pose a greater range of challenges to survival and reproduction than predictable ones. Family-living among birds may therefore be a conservative "'best of a bad job'' strategy to maximize fitness when breeding conditions vary unpredictably from year to year.

"Families act as insurance against environmental uncertainty," said Rubenstein. "Just as predicting a drop in the stock market is difficult, so too is determining when food is going to be scarce." When times are bad and food is difficult to find, joining up to raise young may pay off for both parents and helpers.

This thinking may have implications for an entirely different group of animals: humans. "Think twice," cautions Rubenstein, "before you kick your grown kids out of the house, as you never know when you might need them."

About Columbia University

A leading academic and research university, Columbia continually seeks to advance the frontiers of knowledge and to foster a campus community deeply engaged in understanding and addressing the complex global issues of our time. Columbia's extensive public service initiatives, cultural collaborations, and community partnerships help define the University's underlying values and mission to educate students to be both leading scholars and informed, engaged citizens. Founded in 1754 as King's College, Columbia University in the City of New York is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. To learn more, visit

Media contact: Clare Oh, or 212-854-5479

To contact the scientist: Dustin Rubinstein,

Clare Oh | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>