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 In focus: Peptides, the “little brothers and sisters” of proteins
12.11.2018 | Technische Universität Berlin

nachricht How to produce fluorescent nanoparticles for medical applications in a nuclear reactor
09.11.2018 | Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences (IOCB Prague)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

Im Focus: Nanorobots propel through the eye

Scientists developed specially coated nanometer-sized vehicles that can be actively moved through dense tissue like the vitreous of the eye. So far, the transport of nano-vehicles has only been demonstrated in model systems or biological fluids, but not in real tissue. The work was published in the journal Science Advances and constitutes one step further towards nanorobots becoming minimally-invasive tools for precisely delivering medicine to where it is needed.

Researchers of the “Micro, Nano and Molecular Systems” Lab at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, together with an international...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Peptides, the “little brothers and sisters” of proteins

12.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Materials scientist creates fabric alternative to batteries for wearable devices

12.11.2018 | Materials Sciences

A two-atom quantum duet

12.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>