Date: December 1, 2016
Source: Kansas State University
Birds of a feather flock together but they schedule parenting duties differently, according to a Kansas State University researcher.
Brett Sandercock, professor in the Division of Biology, and Eunbi Kwon, Kansas State University alumna and postdoctoral researcher at Virginia Tech University, are part of an international team of ornithologists who have published "Unexpected diversity in socially synchronized rhythms of shorebirds" in the Dec. 1 issue of Nature. According to the research, mated pairs of wild shorebirds have established diverse schedules for parental care of the nest.
"Understanding the ecology of these birds and appreciating the diversity of the different ways they are all solving the same problem -- how do males and females work together to coordinate their activities at the nest -- is the reason this is appearing in Nature," Sandercock said. "Until this work was done, there really was no appreciation of this incredible diversity in strategies across this interesting group of birds."
The complete study included data from 729 nests of 32 shorebird species in 91 populations worldwide. Most of the shorebirds in the study lay three to four eggs in a ground nest and cover their eggs continuously so that one mate is responsible for the nest during a particular period, called an incubation bout. The majority of the shorebirds exchanged parenting duties within a range of every other hour to every 24 hours. A few incubation bouts lasted for up to two days on the nest before the parents switched. "There is excitement and interest in trying to understand rhythms in animals," Sandercock said. "The incredible diversity we see across multiple species and sites within the species opens doors for a bunch of future work to explain mechanisms underlying biological rhythms."