Sexing Adult Pale-Winged Starlings Using Morphometric and Discriminant Function Analysis.
ABSTRACT: Accurate sexing of birds is vital for behavioral studies but can be a real problem in the field, especially for monomorphic species. Our goal here was to characterize the morphology of male and female monomorphic pale-winged starlings (Onychognathus nabouroup), a South African sturnid whose plumage is sexually monomorphic. Morphological measurements of genetically sexed animals indicated that males were statistically larger than females for five measurements: Mass, tail length, tarsus length and wing length. By using a Discriminant Function Analysis based on the measurements taken by one ringer, we were able to predict correctly the sex of 81.10% of the birds of data collected in the field and 77.9% of museum skins independently of year of capture and ringer. The model developed here should be useful for further field studies of this species.
Project description:Background:The sex of an individual organism plays such an important role in its life cycle that researchers must know a bird's sex to interpret key aspects of its biology. The sexes of dimorphic species can be easily distinguished, but sexing monomorphic bird species often requires expensive and time-consuming molecular methods. The Little Stint (Calidris minuta) is a numerous species, monomorphic in plumage but showing a small degree of reversed sexual size dimorphism. Females are larger than males but the ranges of their measurements overlap, making Little Stints difficult to sex in the field. Our aim was to develop reliable sexing criteria for Little Stints in different stages of primary moult during their stay on the non-breeding grounds in South Africa using DNA-sexed individuals and discriminant function analysis. Methods:We caught 348 adult Little Stints in 2008-2016 on their non-breeding grounds at Barberspan Bird Sanctuary. To molecularly identify the birds' sex we used P2/P8 primers and DNA isolated from blood samples collected in the field. We used Storer's dimorphism index to assess the degree of sexual size dimorphism. Then we divided our sample into two groups: before or during and after primary moult. For each group we developed two functions: one using wing length only and the other a combination of morphometric features including wing, tarsus and total head length. Then we used a stepwise procedure to check which combination of measurements best discriminated sexes. To validate our result we used a jack-knife cross-validation procedure and Cohen-kappa statistics. Results:All the morphometric features we measured were bigger in DNA-sexed females than in males. Birds with fresh primaries had on average 2.3 mm longer wings than those with worn primaries. A discriminant function using wing length (D1) correctly sexed 78.8% of individuals before moult, and a stepwise analysis showed that a combination of wing length and tarsus (D2) correctly identified the sex of 82.7% of these birds. For birds with freshly moulted primaries a function using wing length (D3) correctly classified 83.4% of the individuals, and a stepwise analysis revealed that wing and total head length (D4) classified 84.7%. Discussion:Sexual size differences in Little Stints might be linked to their phylogenetics and breeding biology. Females are bigger, which increases their fecundity; males are smaller, which increases their manoeuverability during display flights and hence their mating success. Little Stints show an extreme lack of breeding site fidelity so we did not expect a geographical cline in their biometrics. Sexing criteria available for Little Stints in the literature were developed using museum specimens, which often shrink, leading to misclassification of live birds. The sexing criteria we developed can be used for studies on Little Stints at their non-breeding grounds and on past data, but should be applied cautiously because of the overlapping ranges.
Project description:During the last two decades populations of three resident species of Gyps vulture have declined dramatically and are now threatened with extinction in South Asia. Sex identification of vultures is of key importance for the purpose of conservation breeding as it is desirable to have an equal sex ratio in these monogamous species which are housed together in large colony aviaries. Because vultures are monomorphic, with no differences in external morphology or plumage colour between the sexes, other methods are required for sex identification. Molecular methods for sex identification in birds rely on allelic length or nucleotide sequence discrimination of the chromohelicase-DNA binding (CHD) gene located on male and female chromosomes ZZ and ZW, respectively. We characterized the partial sequences of CHD alleles from Gyps indicus, Gyps bengalensis, Gyps himalayensis and Aegypius monachus and analysed the applicability of five molecular methods of sex identification of 46 individual vultures including 26 known-sex G. bengalensis and G. indicus. The results revealed that W-specific PCR in combination with ZW-common PCR is a quick, accurate and simple method, and is ideal for sex identification of vultures. The method is also suitable to augment ecological studies for identifying sex of these endangered birds during necropsy examinations especially when gonads are not apparent, possibly due to regression during non-breeding seasons.
Project description:Darwin's finches are an iconic example of adaptive radiation and evolution under natural selection. Comparative genetic studies using embryos of Darwin's finches have shed light on the possible evolutionary processes underlying the speciation of this clade. Molecular identification of the sex of embryonic samples is important for such studies, where this information often cannot be inferred otherwise. We tested a fast and simple chicken embryo protocol to extract DNA from Darwin's finch embryos. In addition, we applied minor modifications to two of the previously reported PCR primer sets for CHD1, a gene used for sexing adult passerine birds. The sex of all 29 tested embryos of six species of Darwin's finches was determined successfully by PCR, using both primer sets. Next to embryos, hatchlings and fledglings are also impossible to distinguish visually. This extends to juveniles of sexually dimorphic species which are yet to moult in adult-like plumage and beak colouration. Furthermore, four species of Darwin's finches are monomorphic, males and females looking alike. Therefore, sex assessment in the field can be a source of error, especially with respect to juveniles and mature monomorphic birds outside of the mating season. We caught 567 juveniles and adults belonging to six species of Darwin's finches and only 44% had unambiguous sex-specific morphology. We sexed 363 birds by PCR: individuals sexed based on marginal sex specific morphological traits; and birds which were impossible to classify in the field. PCR revealed that for birds with marginal sex specific traits, sexing in the field produced a 13% error rate. This demonstrates that PCR based sexing can improve field studies on Darwin's finches, especially when individuals with unclear sex-related morphology are involved. The protocols used here provide an easy and reliable way to sex Darwin's finches throughout ontogeny, from embryos to adults.
Project description:Background and Aim:Many avian species are considered sexually monomorphic. In monomorphic bird species, especially in young birds, sex is difficult to identify based on an analysis of their external morphology. Accurate sex identification is essential for avian captive breeding and evolutionary studies. Methods with varying degrees of invasiveness such as vent sexing, laparoscopic surgery, steroid sexing, and chromosome inspection (karyotyping) are used for sex identification in monomorphic birds. This study aimed to assess the utility of a non-invasive molecular marker for gender identification in a variety of captive monomorphic birds, as a strategy for conservation. Materials and Methods:DNA was isolated from feather samples from 52 individuals representing 16 species of 11 families indigenous to both Indonesia and elsewhere. We amplified the chromodomain helicase DNA-binding (CHD) gene using polymerase chain reaction with MP, NP, and PF primers to amplify introns with lengths that differ between the CHD-W and the CHD-Z genes, allowing sex discrimination because the W chromosome is exclusively present in females. Results:Molecular bird sexing confirmed 33 females and 19 males with 100% accuracy. We used sequencing followed by alignment on one protected bird species (Probosciger aterrimus). Conclusion:Sex identification may be accomplished noninvasively in birds, because males only have Z sex chromosomes, whereas females have both Z and W chromosomes. Consequently, the presence of a W-unique DNA sequence identifies an individual as female. Sexing of birds is vital for scientific research, and to increase the success rate of conservation breeding programs.
Project description:Sex differences in the foraging ecology of monomorphic species are poorly understood, due to problems with gender identification in field studies. In the current study, we used experimental conditions to investigate the food preferences of the white stork Ciconia ciconia, an opportunistic species in terms of food, but characterised by a low level of sexual dimorphism. During a 10-day experiment, 29 individuals (20 females and 9 males) were studied by means of a 'cafeteria test' in which the storks' diet consisted of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, insects and earthworms. The storks preferred food characterised by high calorific and protein values such as mammals, birds and fish. Sexes differed strongly in their preferences; males preferred mammals, whereas females preferred birds. Moreover, females consumed insects and earthworms less often than males. Interestingly, males spent significantly less time foraging than females. We have demonstrated that the white stork exhibits clear sexual differences in food preferences which are mostly attributable to differences in parental duties, physiology and anatomy.
Project description:Pending changes in European legislation ban the use of wild-caught animals in research. This change is partly justified on the assumption that captive-breeding (or hand-rearing) increases welfare of captive animals because these practices result in animals with reduced fear of humans. However, there are few actual data on the long-term behavioural effects of captive-breeding in non-domestic species, and these are urgently needed in order to understand the welfare and scientific consequences of adopting this practice. We compared the response of hand-reared and wild-caught starlings to the presence of a human in the laboratory. During human presence, all birds increased their general locomotor activity but the wild-caught birds moved away from the human and were less active than the hand-reared birds. After the human departed, the wild-caught birds were slower to decrease their activity back towards baseline levels, and showed a dramatic increase in time at the periphery of the cage compared with the hand-reared birds. We interpret these data as showing evidence of a greater fear response in wild-caught birds with initial withdrawal followed by a subsequent rebound of prolonged attempts to escape the cage. We found no effects of environmental enrichment. However, birds in cages on low shelves were less active than birds on upper shelves, and showed a greater increase in the time spent at the periphery of their cages after the human departed, perhaps indicating that the lower cages were more stressful. In demonstrating reduced fear of humans in hand-reared birds, our results support one of the proposed welfare benefits of this practice, but without further data on the possible welfare costs of hand-rearing, it is not yet possible to reach a general conclusion about its net welfare impact. However, our results confirm a clear scientific impact of both hand-rearing and cage position at the behavioural level.
Project description:Why are some individuals more prone to gamble than others? Animals often show preferences between 2 foraging options with the same mean reward but different degrees of variability in the reward, and such risk preferences vary between individuals. Previous attempts to explain variation in risk preference have focused on energy budgets, but with limited empirical support. Here, we consider whether biological ageing, which affects mortality and residual reproductive value, predicts risk preference. We studied a cohort of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in which we had previously measured developmental erythrocyte telomere attrition, an established integrative biomarker of biological ageing. We measured the adult birds' preferences when choosing between a fixed amount of food and a variable amount with an equal mean. After controlling for change in body weight during the experiment (a proxy for energy budget), we found that birds that had undergone greater developmental telomere attrition were more risk averse as adults than were those whose telomeres had shortened less as nestlings. Developmental telomere attrition was a better predictor of adult risk preference than either juvenile telomere length or early-life food supply and begging effort. Our longitudinal study thus demonstrates that biological ageing, as measured via developmental telomere attrition, is an important source of lasting differences in adult risk preferences.
Project description:Many bird species are sexually monomorphic and cannot be sexed based on phenotypic traits. Rapid sex determination is often a necessary component of avian studies focusing on behavior, ecology, evolution, and conservation. While PCR-based methods are the most common technique for molecularly sexing birds in the laboratory, a simpler, faster, and cheaper method has emerged, which can be used in the laboratory, but importantly also in the field. Herein, we used loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) for rapid sex determination of blood samples from juvenile European blackcaps, Sylvia atricapilla, sampled in the wild. We designed LAMP primers unique to S. atricapilla based on the sex chromosome-specific gene, chromo-helicase-DNA-binding protein (CHD), optimized the primers for laboratory and field application, and then used them to test a subset of wild-caught juvenile blackcaps of unknown gender at the time of capture. Sex determination results were fast and accurate. The advantages of this technique are that it allows researchers to identify the sex of individual birds within hours of sampling and eliminates the need for direct access to a laboratory if implemented at a remote field site. This work adds to the increasing list of available LAMP primers for different bird species and is a new addition within the Passeriformes order.
Project description:Animals can insure themselves against the risk of starvation associated with unpredictable food availability by storing energy reserves or gathering information about alternative food sources. The former strategy carries costs in terms of mass-dependent predation risk, while the latter trades off against foraging for food; both trade-offs may be influenced by an individual's developmental history. Here, we consider a possible role of early developmental experience in inducing different mass regulation and foraging strategies in European starlings. We measured the body mass, body condition, foraging effort, food consumption and contrafreeloading (foraging for food hidden in sand when equivalent food is freely available) of adult birds (?10 months old) that had previously undergone a subtle early life manipulation of food competition (cross-fostering into the highest or lowest ranks in the brood size hierarchy when 2-12 days of age). We found that developmentally disadvantaged birds were fatter in adulthood and differed in foraging behaviour compared with their advantaged siblings. Disadvantaged birds were hyperphagic compared with advantaged birds, but only following a period of food deprivation, and also spent more time contrafreeloading. Advantaged birds experienced a trade-off between foraging success and time spent contrafreeloading, whereas disadvantaged birds faced no such trade-off, owing to their greater foraging efficiency. Thus, developmentally disadvantaged birds appeared to retain a phenotypic memory of increased nestling food competition, employing both energy storage and information-gathering insurance strategies to a greater extent than their advantaged siblings. Our results suggest that subtle early life disadvantage in the form of psychosocial stress and/or food insecurity can leave a lasting legacy on foraging behaviour and mass regulation even in the absence of food insufficiency during development or adulthood.
Project description:Glass patterns are structured dot stimuli used to investigate the visual perception of global form. Studies have demonstrated that humans and pigeons differ in their processing of circular versus linearly organized Glass patterns. To test whether this comparative difference is characteristic of birds as a phylogenetic class, we investigated for the first time how a passerine (starlings, Sturnus vulgaris) discriminated multiple Glass patterns from random-dot stimuli in a simultaneous discrimination. By examining acquisition, steady-state performance, and the effects of diminishing global coherence, it was found that the perception of Glass patterns by 5 starlings differed from human perception and corresponded to that established with pigeons. This suggests an important difference in how birds and primates are specialized in their processing of circular visual patterns, perhaps related to face perception, or in how these highly visual animals direct attention to the global and local components of spatially separated form stimuli.