Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Stork


The migratory patterns of animals are changing in response to global environmental change with many species forming resident populations in areas where they were once migratory. The white stork (Ciconia ciconia) was wholly migratory in Europe but recently guaranteed, year-round food from landfill sites has facilitated the establishment of resident populations in Iberia. In this study 17 resident white storks were fitted with GPS/GSM data loggers (including accelerometer) and tracked for 9.1 ± 3.7 months to quantify the extent and consistency of landfill attendance by individuals during the non-breeding and breeding seasons and to assess the influence of landfill use on daily distances travelled, percentage of GPS fixes spent foraging and non-landfill foraging ranges.

Concepts: Bird, Stork, White Stork, Ciconia, Pfeilstorch, Black Stork, Mycteria, Storks


Formal protected areas will not provide adequate protection to conserve all biodiversity, and are not always designated using systematic or strategic criteria. Using a systematic process, the Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) network was designed to highlight areas of conservation significance for birds (i.e. IBA trigger species), and more recently general biodiversity. Land use activities that take place in IBAs are diverse, including consumptive and non-consumptive activities. Avitourism in Australia, generally a non-consumptive activity, is reliant on the IBA network and the birds IBAs aim to protect. However, companies tend not to mention IBAs in their marketing. Furthermore, avitourism, like other nature-based tourism has the potential to be both a threatening process as well as a conservation tool. We aimed to assess the current use of IBAs among Australian-based avitour companies' marketing, giving some indication of which IBAs are visited by avitourists on organised tours. We reviewed online avitour itineraries, recorded sites featuring in descriptions of avitours and which IBA trigger species are used to sell those tours. Of the 209 avitours reviewed, Queensland is the most featured state (n = 59 tours), and 73% feature at least one IBA. Daintree (n = 22) and Bruny Island (n = 17) IBAs are the most popular, nationally. Trigger species represent 34% (n = 254 out of 747) of species used in avitour descriptions. The most popular trigger species' are wetland species including; Brolga (n = 37), Black-necked Stork (n = 30) and Magpie Goose (n = 27). Opportunities exist to increase collaboration between avitour companies and IBA stakeholders. Our results can provide guidance for managing sustainability of the avitourism industry at sites that feature heavily in avitour descriptions and enhance potential cooperation between avitour companies, IBA stakeholders and bird conservation organisations.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Bird, Sustainability, Collaboration, Goose, Stork


Ecological associations where one species enhances habitat for another nearby species (facilitations) shape fundamental community dynamics and can promote niche expansion, thereby influencing how and where species persist and coexist. For the many breeding birds facing high nest-predation pressure, enemy-free space can be gained by nesting near more formidable animals for physical protection. While the benefits to protected species seem well documented, very few studies have explored whether and how protector species are affected by nest protection associations. Long-legged wading birds (Pelecaniformes and Ciconiiformes) actively choose nesting sites above resident American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), apparently to take advantage of the protection from mammalian nest predators that alligator presence offers. Previous research has shown that wading bird nesting colonies could provide substantial food for alligators in the form of dropped chicks. We compared alligator body condition in similar habitat with and without wading bird nesting colonies present. Alligator morphometric body condition indices were significantly higher in colony than in non-colony locations, an effect that was statistically independent of a range of environmental variables. Since colonially nesting birds and crocodilians co-occur in many tropical and subtropical wetlands, our results highlight a potentially widespread keystone process between two ecologically important species-groups. These findings suggest the interaction is highly beneficial for both groups of actors, and illustrate how selective pressures may have acted to form and reinforce a strongly positive ecological interaction.

Concepts: Bird, Seabird, Crocodilia, Alligatoridae, Alligator, American Alligator, Stork, Ciconiiformes


Landbirds undertaking within-continent migrations have the possibility to stop en route, but most long-distance migrants must also undertake large non-stop sea crossings, the length of which can vary greatly. For shorebirds migrating from Iceland to West Africa, the shortest route would involve one of the longest continuous sea crossings while alternative, mostly overland, routes are available. Using geolocators to track the migration of Icelandic whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus), we show that they can complete a round-trip of 11,000 km making two non-stop sea crossings and flying at speeds of up to 24 m s(-1); the fastest recorded for shorebirds flying over the ocean. Although wind support could reduce flight energetic costs, whimbrels faced headwinds up to twice their ground speed, indicating that unfavourable and potentially fatal weather conditions are not uncommon. Such apparently high risk migrations might be more common than previously thought, with potential fitness gains outweighing the costs.

Concepts: Africa, Bird, Human migration, Seabird, Ocean, Wader, Bird migration, Stork


Billions of nocturnally migrating birds move through increasingly photopolluted skies, relying on cues for navigation and orientation that artificial light at night (ALAN) can impair. However, no studies have quantified avian responses to powerful ground-based light sources in urban areas. We studied effects of ALAN on migrating birds by monitoring the beams of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum’s “Tribute in Light” in New York, quantifying behavioral responses with radar and acoustic sensors and modeling disorientation and attraction with simulations. This single light source induced significant behavioral alterations in birds, even in good visibility conditions, in this heavily photopolluted environment, and to altitudes up to 4 km. We estimate that the installation influenced ≈1.1 million birds during our study period of 7 d over 7 y. When the installation was illuminated, birds aggregated in high densities, decreased flight speeds, followed circular flight paths, and vocalized frequently. Simulations revealed a high probability of disorientation and subsequent attraction for nearby birds, and bird densities near the installation exceeded magnitudes 20 times greater than surrounding baseline densities during each year’s observations. However, behavioral disruptions disappeared when lights were extinguished, suggesting that selective removal of light during nights with substantial bird migration is a viable strategy for minimizing potentially fatal interactions among ALAN, structures, and birds. Our results also highlight the value of additional studies describing behavioral patterns of nocturnally migrating birds in powerful lights in urban areas as well as conservation implications for such lighting installations.

Concepts: Light, Bird, Cuckoo, Seabird, Lighting, Bird migration, Stork, Bird flight


The timing of bird migration has shifted in response to climate change. However, few studies have linked the potential consequences of any phenological shift on individual fitness and even fewer have disentangled the role of plasticity and microevolution in the observed shifts. The arrival date and breeding success of white storks (Ciconia ciconia) have been recorded since the 1880s in Slovakia. We used data for two periods (1895-1913 and 1977-2007), which were considered, respectively, as populations before and after the start of climate warming. About 4000 male and 2500 female arrival dates along with 3000 breeding attempts were studied. Mean arrival dates did not differ between the two periods. During 1977-2007, males tended towards a slight delay for most fractions of arrival distribution. Protandry was reduced by 30% (1·44 days). In both sexes, the early percentiles of the arrival distribution arrived later those years with warmer temperatures at the African wintering grounds, while late percentiles advanced their arrival when temperatures were higher in the European areas flown over during migration. Mean breeding success of the Slovakian population has not changed since 1977. However, fecundity selection for arrival date reduced over the years: at the end of 1970s and 1980s, early breeders had more success than late breeders, but this seasonal trend disappeared towards the end of the study period. An early arrival and territory acquisition may have become less of an advantage due to the enhancement of feeding opportunities during the breeding season in recent decades. A century ago, stork arrival varied spatially, with earlier arrivals at low altitudes, southern slopes and warmer and drier regions. This spatial variation mostly vanished, and at present, we found little correlations with topographical and climatic gradients. We showed that long-term temporal changes in the timing of biological events may be complex because each fraction of a population and sex may show different temporal trends in their arrival dates. In addition, the effect of biotic and abiotic factors may change consistently in space and time, and thereby phenotypes' value depends on the circumstances that are expressed due to its variable fitness consequences.

Concepts: Bird, Sex, Climate change, Bird migration, Stork, White Stork, Ciconia, Pfeilstorch


Species distribution models (SDM) link species occurrence with a suite of environmental predictors and provide an estimate of habitat quality when the variable set captures the biological requirements of the species. SDMs are inherently more complex when they include components of a species' ecology such as conspecific attraction and behavioral flexibility to exploit resources that vary across time and space. Wading birds are highly mobile, demonstrate flexible habitat selection, and respond quickly to changes in habitat quality; thus serving as important indicator species for wetland systems. We developed a spatio-temporal, multi-SDM framework using Great Egret (Ardea alba), White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), and Wood Stork (Mycteria Americana) distributions over a decadal gradient of environmental conditions to predict species-specific abundance across space and locations used on the landscape over time. In models of temporal dynamics, species demonstrated conditional preferences for resources based on resource levels linked to differing temporal scales. Wading bird abundance was highest when prey production from optimal periods of inundation was concentrated in shallow depths. Similar responses were observed in models predicting locations used over time, accounting for spatial autocorrelation. Species clustered in response to differing habitat conditions, indicating that social attraction can co-vary with foraging strategy, water-level changes, and habitat quality. This modeling framework can be applied to evaluate the multi-annual resource pulses occurring in real-time, climate change scenarios, or restorative hydrological regimes by tracking changing seasonal and annual distribution and abundance of high quality foraging patches.

Concepts: Bird, Stork, Threskiornithidae, Ibis, American White Ibis, Birds of the United States, Great Egret, Eudocimus


How the spatial expansion of a species changes at a human time scale is a process difficult to determine. We studied the dispersal pattern of the French white stork population, using a 21-year ringing/resighting dataset. We used the graph-theory to investigate the strength of links between 5 populations (North-East, North-West, Centre, West, and South) and to determine factors important for the birds' movements. Two clusters of populations were identified within the metapopulation, with most frequent movements of individuals between North-Eastern and Centre populations, and between North-Western and Western populations. Exchanges of individuals between populations were asymmetrical, where North-Eastern and North-Western populations provided more emigrants than they received immigrants. Neither the geographical distance between populations, nor the difference in densities influenced the number of individuals exchanging between populations. The graph-theory approach provides a dynamic view of individual movements within a metapopulation and might be useful for future population studies in the context of conservation.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Population ecology, Bird, Population density, Europe, Immigration, Stork


We evaluated the presence of coronaviruses by PCR in 918 Australian wild bird samples collected during 2016-17. Coronaviruses were detected in 141 samples (15.3%) from species of ducks, shorebirds and herons and from multiple sampling locations. Sequencing of selected positive samples found mainly gammacoronaviruses, but also some deltacoronaviruses. The detection rate of coronaviruses was improved by using multiple PCR assays, as no single assay could detect all coronavirus positive samples. Sequencing of the relatively conserved Orf1 PCR amplicons found that Australian duck gammacoronaviruses were similar to duck gammacoronaviruses around the world. Some sequenced shorebird gammacoronaviruses belonged to Charadriiformes lineages, but others were more closely related to duck gammacoronaviruses. Australian duck and heron deltacoronaviruses belonged to lineages with other duck and heron deltacoronaviruses, but were almost 20% different in nucleotide sequence to other deltacoronavirus sequences available. Deltacoronavirus sequences from shorebirds formed a lineage with a deltacoronavirus from a ruddy turnstone detected in the United States. Given that Australian duck gammacoronaviruses are highly similar to those found in other regions, and Australian ducks rarely come into contact with migratory Palearctic duck species, we hypothesise that migratory shorebirds are the important vector for moving wild bird coronaviruses into and out of Australia.

Concepts: Bird, Sequence, Wader, Duck, Bird migration, Stork, Scolopacidae, Ciconiiformes


Although many birds are socially monogamous, most (>75%) studied species are not strictly genetically monogamous, especially under high breeding density. We used molecular tools to reevaluate the reproductive strategy of the socially monogamous white stork (Ciconia ciconia) and examined local density effects. DNA samples of nestlings (Germany, Spain) were genotyped and assigned relationships using a two-program maximum likelihood classification. Relationships were successfully classified in 79.2% of German (n = 120) and 84.8% of Spanish (n = 59) nests. For each population respectively, 76.8% (n = 73) and 66.0% (n = 33) of nests contained only full-siblings, 10.5% (n = 10) and 18.0% (n = 9) had half-siblings (at least one nestling with a different parent), 3.2% (n = 3) and 10.0% (n = 5) had unrelated nestlings (at least two nestlings, each with different parents), and 9.5% (n = 9) and 6.0% (n = 3) had “not full-siblings” (could not differentiate between latter two cases). These deviations from strict monogamy place the white stork in the 59(th) percentile for extra-pair paternity among studied bird species. Although high breeding density generally increases extra-pair paternity, we found no significant association with this species' mating strategies. Thus although genetic monogamy is indeed prominent in the white stork, extra-pair paternity is fairly common compared to other bird species and cannot be explained by breeding density.

Concepts: DNA, Organism, Bird, Stork, White Stork, Ciconia