When setting the scene, birds are the unsung heroes

Posted by Ellery McNaughton @EJ_McNaughton

There’s a lot of discriminating going on in Hollywood. You’ve probably heard of whitewashing, but what about hawk-washing? Chances are you’ve seen it in action. When some craggy mountaintop or rugged landscape appears on the screen, an eagle will fly by and give a majestic screech. Only problem is, that majestic call isn’t actually an eagle at all. It’s a red-tailed hawk. Apparently the patriotic symbol of America just doesn’t sound cool enough for the silver screen. Birds that sound cool can also nab roles from those more geographically qualified. A prime example of this is the laughing kookaburra, found only in Australasia, yet magically heard in movie jungles all over the world.

Movie birds

The A-listers: Red-tailed hawk, common loon and laughing kookaburra

Inaccurate or not, these birds and others do a lot of scene setting without us even realising. An owl hooting at night is somehow instantly spooky, despite it being what owls naturally do. Nothing says wilderness like a common loon, which is apparently all the reasoning Marvel needs to stick one on an alien planet. It does make me pity American bird enthusiasts, whose suspension of disbelief in movies doesn’t have the same shiny protective coating of ignorance that mine does. I accepted the sound of a common loon as an icon of haunted wilderness way before I knew the actual bird existed. The only twinge of recognition I get is hearing bellbirds in elven woods when watching Lord of the Rings for the hundredth time.

The ability of bird calls to invoke a particular idea or emotion is something I’ve been thinking about whilst going through the dawn/dusk chorus audio data I collected for my thesis. Rugged up with a winter dressing gown and hot water bottle, I didn’t expect to feel like summer was just around the corner. And yet, thanks to Turdus merula, I did.

Blackbird (3)

Blackbird calls on a spectrogram – reminds me of impending summer. Also of Van Gogh.

Merely the recording of a blackbird singing at dusk was enough to get me dreaming of daylight savings and warm summer nights. It’s an interesting reminder of just how much meaning we unconsciously attach to bird calls, whether they be in movie soundtracks or the urban soundscapes we live in.

Ellery McNaughton is a PhD student in the Centre of Biodiversity and Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. Her project investigates the effects of a city-wide changeover in streetlight technology on urban bird behaviour and ecosystem function. She is supervised by Margaret StanleyJacqueline BeggsKevin Gaston (University of Exeter, UK) and Darryl Jones (Griffith University, Australia).

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Going for birds: my top 6 places for bird watching in New Zealand

Posted by Daria Erastova @Kuukso

My big dream was to study New Zealand native birds. To my utter happiness, I finally joined the friendly Ecology Ngātahi labgroup under the supervision of Margaret Stanley to study ecology of urban native birds. However, I have just started my PhD project and I hope to give you some insights on that later. Instead, I will share some of my experiences birdwatching in New Zealand. Birds of a feather flock together – I found this pastime quite popular in New Zealand, so today I share my top six places to find native birds!

No. 6: Dunedin Botanic Garden, Dunedin.

The famous Dunedin Botanic Garden lies within the city’s green belt and is very big. This, along with numerous old and flowering trees growing there makes this place an excellent haven for birds. Many native species scurry here and there: tui, bellbird, silvereye, fantail etc. There is also an aviary with captive kea, kaka and kakariki.

Sylvereye

Silvereye

No. 5: Point England Reserve, Auckland.

This spacious reserve connects with other coastal reserves and is maintained, allowing you to spend a whole day there. This amazing place enables you to get  a wildlife experience while staying New Zealand’s largest city. Here you would can find a variety of shore and forest birds. I counted 25 species in a day, including natives like shelduck, kereru and rare little black shag.

Kereru

Kereru

No. 4. Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands.

I was not keen to go there. Urupukapuka proved I was wrong as it turned out to be an outstanding place for birdwatching. In fact, I beat my personal record and identified 27 species in 3 hours! My most interesting encounters were banded rail, New Zealand dotterel, tomtit and North Island robin.

shelduck

Shelduck

No. 3. Otago Peninsula, Dunedin.

Except for the famous Royal Albatross Colony, where you can also spot Stewart Island shag, and the Penguin Place, with grumpy yellow-eyed penguins, there are other places worth visiting. For example, the Hooper Inlet, inhabited by sacred kingfisher, white-faced heron, grey teal and swamp harrier. The other place is Portobello Bay with royal spoonbill, pied oystercatcher and the cutest little shag. Finally, go to Tomahawk Lagoon for pied stilt or spur-winged plover.

little shag

Little shag

No. 2. Tawharanui Regional Park, Auckland.

What is special about this beautiful peninsula is that it is surrounded by a pest-proof fence and has a variety of habitats, including old forests with kaka (you are highly likely to see or hear one), river thickets with spotless crake and seashores with pipits.

No. 1. Tiritiri Matangi, Hauraki Gulf.

This reserve does not need any introduction being one of the most popular tourist attractions in Auckland. After predator eradication and forest replanting the island became the bird paradise. There you all the chances to have a close encounter with species you would never or hardly ever see anywhere else, e.g. little spotted kiwi (one passed 25 cm away from me!), takahe, kokako, brown teal, stitchbird and many more.

I hope this list was useful and enjoyable for all nature lovers. It is based on my limited experience, and there are many other fantastic places, which I am eager to explore. Therefore, if you need a volunteer for your bird fieldwork or a companion on a birdwatching trip, please feel free to contact me.

 

kokako

Kokako

 

DariaphotoDaria is a PhD candidate studying the influence of garden sugar feeders on native bird behaviour and health, and whether feeders alter the contribution these birds make to pollinating indigenous plants. She is supervised by Margaret Stanley, Kristal Cain and Josie Galbraith.

 

Coevolution in exotic herbivores and weeds

Posted by Melissa Kirk @MGKir_04

Evolution and adaptation

Exotic species have the potential to adapt and rapidly evolve in their new introduced ranges. This can have multiple consequences including changes to their host preference, defence mechanisms, growth rates and biomass, climate tolerance, fecundity and phenology. These changes can lead to an increase in abundance, range expansion, and a difference in their overall impacts.

birds evoSuch adaptations are highly likely due to the multiple new selective pressures they may encounter. For example, new selection pressures may occur as they encounter new competitors, new climates and new habitats. These adaptations and trait shift changes can occur in relatively short time periods, within a few generations. The absence of competitors and natural enemies can lead to relaxed selection, and thus a change may occur through a non-adaptive shift. A non-adaptive shift may not translate to a genetic shift initially; however, such shifts can lead to reproductive isolation and subsequently speciation.

Adaptations in plant-herbivore systems

There are two key theories behind why many plant species become weeds: the ‘enemy release hypothesis’ and the ‘novel weapon hypothesis’. The theories state that either the lack of natural enemies in the new introduced area or the presence of novel defence mechanisms which allows no or low herbivory to occur in the new environment. Thus the role of coevolution between weeds and specialists herbivores has also been attributed to plants invasiveness. If a plant has escaped its specialised herbivores, there is no need to produce costly defence mechanisms and this energy and resources can be used for growth and increased competitiveness in its new introduced range. An example of this is when the wild parsnip, Pastinaca sativa invaded the US, and after many generations without its coevolved enemy the webworm, Depressaria pastinacella its levels of defence chemicals reduced. However, after the webworm became established within the US and the plant-herbivore system were reunited; rapid evolution resulted in increased levels of defence chemicals (Zangerl & Berenbaum, 2005).

Re-association: wild parsnips and webworms in New Zealand

webworm

Image source: Tarmo Lampinen, 2013

Wild parsnips also occur within New Zealand, like in the US, parsnip populations went many years without the webworms. It wasn’t until over 150 years after the establishment of the wild parsnips that the parsnip webworms were accidentally introduced into New Zealand. A previous study found that for wild parsnips in NZ, the re-association with their natural enemy the webworm did not result in an increase of defence chemicals, rather an increase in plant size (Jogesh, Stanley & Berenbaum, 2014). Therefore a switch in strategies seems to have occurred from resistance using chemical defence to tolerance via the plants size, however, whether this change is a true adaptive shift needs to be investigated.

As part of my PhD research on the ‘rapid evolution of exotic species’ I am planning on researching exotic herbivores and weed interactions, and how they can influence each other’s evolution. For this I am planning on investigating the wild parsnip and webworm interaction in NZ. I am also planning on investigating the interaction between nodding thistle and its exotic herbivores in NZ, like that of the wild parsnip it is thought that the presence of the nodding thistles natural enemies has influenced the traits and evolution of the plants growth and reproduction.

Key references:

Blossey, B., & Notzold, R. (1995). Evolution of increased competitive ability in invasive nonindigenous plants: a hypothesis. Journal of Ecology, 83(5), 887-889.

Callaway, R. M., & Ridenour, W. M. (2004). Novel weapons: invasive success and the evolution of increased competitive ability. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2(8), 436-443.

Jogesh, T., Stanley, M. C., & Berenbaum, M. R. (2014). Evolution of tolerance in an invasive weed after reassociation with its specialist herbivore. Journal of evolutionary biology, 27(11), 2334-2346.

Müller-Schärer, H., & Steinger, T. (2004). Predicting evolutionary change in invasive, exotic plants   and its consequences for plant–herbivore interactions. Genetics, evolution and biological control, 137-162.

Zangerl, A. R., & Berenbaum, M. R. (2005). Increase in toxicity of an invasive weed after    reassociation with its coevolved herbivore. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(43), 15529-15532.

Melissa is a PhD candidate within the Centre for Biodiversity and Biomesecurity, School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland. She is studying rapid evolution in exotic species, and is supervised by Darren Ward, Thomas Buckley and Quentin Paynter. Email: mkir508@aucklanduni.ac.nz