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The costs and consequences of iridescent coloration in Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna)

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Colorful ornaments in animals often serve as sexually selected signals of quality. While pigment-based colors are well-studied in these regards, structural colors that result from the interaction of light with

Colorful ornaments in animals often serve as sexually selected signals of quality. While pigment-based colors are well-studied in these regards, structural colors that result from the interaction of light with photonic nanostructures are comparatively understudied in terms of their consequences in social contexts, their costs of production, and even the best way to measure them. Iridescent colors are some of the most brilliant and conspicuous colors in nature, and I studied the measurement, condition-dependence, and signaling role of iridescence in Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna). While most animal colors are easily quantified using well-established spectrophotometric techniques, the unique characteristics of iridescent colors present challenges to measurement and opportunities to quantify novel color metrics. I designed and tested an apparatus for careful control and measurement of viewing geometry and highly repeatable measurements. These measurements could be used to accurately characterize individual variation in iridescent Anna's hummingbirds to examine their condition-dependence and signaling role. Next, I examined the literature published to date for evidence of condition-dependence of structural colors in birds. Using meta-analyses, I found that structural colors of all three types - white, ultra-violet/blue, and iridescence - are significantly condition-dependent, meaning that they can convey information about quality to conspecifics. I then investigated whether iridescent colors were condition-dependent in Anna's hummingbirds both in a field correlational study and in an experimental study. Throughout the year, I found that iridescent feathers in both male and female Anna's hummingbirds become less brilliant as they age. Color was not correlated with body condition in any age/sex group. However, iridescent coloration in male Anna's hummingbirds was significantly affected by experimental protein in the diet during feather growth, indicating that iridescent color may signal diet quality. Finally, I examined how iridescent colors were used to mediate social competitions in male and female Anna's hummingbirds. Surprisingly, males that were less colorful won significantly more contests than more colorful males, and colorful males received more aggression. Less colorful males may be attempting to drive away colorful neighbors that may be preferred mates. Female iridescent ornament size and color was highly variable, but did not influence contest outcomes or aggression.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Seasonal changes in cell neogenesis in the brain and pituitary gland: a study in the adult male frog, Rana catesbeiana

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Though for most of the twentieth century, dogma held that the adult brain was post-mitotic, it is now known that adult neurogenesis is widespread among vertebrates, from fish, amphibians, reptiles

Though for most of the twentieth century, dogma held that the adult brain was post-mitotic, it is now known that adult neurogenesis is widespread among vertebrates, from fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds to mammals including humans. Seasonal changes in adult neurogenesis are well characterized in the song control system of song birds, and have been found in seasonally breeding mammals as well. In contrast to more derived vertebrates, such as mammals, where adult neurogenesis is restricted primarily to the olfactory bulb and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, neurogenesis is widespread along the ventricles of adult amphibians. I hypothesized that seasonal changes in adult amphibian brain cell proliferation and survival are a potential regulator of reproductive neuroendocrine function. Adult, male American bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana; aka Lithobates catesbeianus), were maintained in captivity for up to a year under season-appropriate photoperiod. Analysis of hormone levels indicated seasonal changes in plasma testosterone concentration consistent with field studies. Using the thymidine analogue 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine (BrdU) as a marker for newly generated cells, two differentially regulated aspects of brain cell neogenesis were tracked; that is, proliferation and survival. Seasonal differences were found in BrdU labeling in several brain areas, including the olfactory bulb, medial pallium, nucleus accumbens and the infundibular hypothalamus. Clear seasonal differences were also found in the pars distalis region of the pituitary gland, an important component of neuroendocrine pathways. BrdU labeling was also examined in relation to two neuropeptides important for amphibian reproduction: arginine vasotocin and gonadotropin releasing hormone. No cells co-localized with BrdU and either neuropeptide, but new born cells were found in close proximity to neuropeptide-containing neurons. These data suggest that seasonal differences in brain and pituitary gland cell neogenesis are a potential neuroendocrine regulatory mechanism.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Personality in the City: Relationship Between Animal Behavioral Traits And Urbanization in a Fragile, Human-impacted Desert Ecosystem

Description

Human-inhabited or -disturbed areas pose many unique challenges for wildlife, including increased human exposure, novel challenges, such as finding food or nesting sites in novel structures, anthropogenic noises, and novel

Human-inhabited or -disturbed areas pose many unique challenges for wildlife, including increased human exposure, novel challenges, such as finding food or nesting sites in novel structures, anthropogenic noises, and novel predators. Animals inhabiting these environments must adapt to such changes by learning to exploit new resources and avoid danger. To my knowledge no study has comprehensively assessed behavioral reactions of urban and rural populations to numerous novel environmental stimuli. I tested behavioral responses of urban, suburban, and rural house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) to novel stimuli (e.g. objects, noises, food), to presentation of a native predator model (Accipiter striatus) and a human, and to two problem-solving challenges (escaping confinement and food-finding). Although I found few population-level differences in behavioral responses to novel objects, environment, and food, I found compelling differences in how finches from different sites responded to novel noise. When played a novel sound (whale call or ship horn), urban and suburban house finches approached their food source more quickly and spent more time on it than rural birds, and urban and suburban birds were more active during the whale-noise presentation. In addition, while there were no differences in response to the native predator, rural birds showed higher levels of stress behaviors when presented with a human. When I replicated this study in juveniles, I found that exposure to humans during development more accurately predicted behavioral differences than capture site. Finally, I found that urban birds were better at solving an escape problem, whereas rural birds were better at solving a food-finding challenge. These results indicate that not all anthropogenic changes affect animal populations equally and that determining the aversive natural-history conditions and challenges of taxa may help urban ecologists better understand the direction and degree to which animals respond to human-induced rapid environmental alterations.

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Date Created
  • 2018

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The function of tyramine in the mouse uterine horn

Description

Pregnancy and childbirth are both natural occurring events, but still little is known about the signaling mechanisms that induce contractions. Throughout the world, premature labor occurs in 12% of

Pregnancy and childbirth are both natural occurring events, but still little is known about the signaling mechanisms that induce contractions. Throughout the world, premature labor occurs in 12% of all pregnancies with 36% of infant deaths resulting from preterm related causes. Even though the cause of preterm labor can vary, understanding alternative signaling pathways, which affect muscle contraction, could provide additional treatment options in stopping premature labor. The uterus is composed of smooth muscle, which is innervated, with a plexus of nerves that cover the muscle fibers. Smooth muscle can be stimulated or modulated by many sources such as neurotransmitters [i.e. dopamine], hormones [i.e. estrogen], peptides [i.e. oxytocin] and amines. This study focuses on the biogenic monoamine tyramine, which is produced in the tyrosine catecholamine biosynthesis pathway. Tyramine is known to be associated with peripheral vasoconstriction, increased cardiac output, increased respiration, elevated blood glucose and the release of norepinephrine. This research has found tyramine, and its specific receptor TAAR1, to be localized within mouse uterus and that this monoamine can induce uterine contractions at levels similar to oxytocin.

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Date Created
  • 2017

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Investigating the influence of food on reproductive physiology and gonad growth: urbanization as a natural experiment

Description

For animals that experience annual cycles of gonad development, the seasonal timing (phenology) of gonad growth is a major adaptation to local environmental conditions. To optimally time seasonal gonad growth,

For animals that experience annual cycles of gonad development, the seasonal timing (phenology) of gonad growth is a major adaptation to local environmental conditions. To optimally time seasonal gonad growth, animals use environmental cues that forecast future conditions. The availability of food is one such environmental cue. Although the importance of food availability has been appreciated for decades, the physiological mechanisms underlying the modulation of seasonal gonad growth by this environmental factor remain poorly understood.

Urbanization is characterized by profound environmental changes, and urban animals must adjust to an environment vastly different from that of their non-urban conspecifics. Evidence suggests that birds adjust to urban areas by advancing the timing of seasonal breeding and gonad development, compared to their non-urban conspecifics. A leading hypothesis to account for this phenomenon is that food availability is elevated in urban areas, which improves the energetic status of urban birds and enables them to initiate gonad development earlier than their non-urban conspecifics. However, this hypothesis remains largely untested.

My dissertation dovetailed comparative studies and experimental approaches conducted in field and captive settings to examine the physiological mechanisms by which food availability modulates gonad growth and to investigate whether elevated food availability in urban areas advances the phenology of gonad growth in urban birds. My captive study demonstrated that energetic status modulates reproductive hormone secretion, but not gonad growth. By contrast, free-ranging urban and non-urban birds did not differ in energetic status or plasma levels of reproductive hormones either in years in which urban birds had advanced phenology of gonad growth or in a year that had no habitat-related disparity in seasonal gonad growth. Therefore, my dissertation provides no support for the hypothesis that urban birds begin seasonal gonad growth because they are in better energetic status and increase the secretion of reproductive hormones earlier than non-urban birds. My studies do suggest, however, that the phenology of key food items and the endocrine responsiveness of the reproductive system may contribute to habitat-related disparities in the phenology of gonad growth.

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Date Created
  • 2014

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Chameleon color change communicates conquest and capitulation

Description

Sexual and social signals have long been thought to play an important role in speciation and diversity; hence, investigations of intraspecific communication may lead to important insights regarding key processes

Sexual and social signals have long been thought to play an important role in speciation and diversity; hence, investigations of intraspecific communication may lead to important insights regarding key processes of evolution. Though we have learned much about the control, function, and evolution of animal communication by studying several very common signal types, investigating rare classes of signals may provide new information about how and why animals communicate. My dissertation research focused on rapid physiological color change, a rare signal-type used by relatively few taxa. To answer longstanding questions about this rare class of signals, I employed novel methods to measure rapid color change signals of male veiled chameleons Chamaeleo calyptratus in real-time as seen by the intended conspecific receivers, as well as the associated behaviors of signalers and receivers. In the context of agonistic male-male interactions, I found that the brightness achieved by individual males and the speed of color change were the best predictors of aggression and fighting ability. Conversely, I found that rapid skin darkening serves as a signal of submission for male chameleons, reducing aggression from winners when displayed by losers. Additionally, my research revealed that the timing of maximum skin brightness and speed of brightening were the best predictors of maximum bite force and circulating testosterone levels, respectively. Together, these results indicated that different aspects of color change can communicate information about contest strategy, physiology, and performance ability. Lastly, when I experimentally manipulated the external appearance of chameleons, I found that "dishonestly" signaling individuals (i.e. those whose behavior did not match their manipulated color) received higher aggression from unpainted opponents. The increased aggression received by dishonest signalers suggests that social costs play an important role in maintaining the honesty of rapid color change signals in veiled chameleons. Though the color change abilities of chameleons have interested humans since the time of Aristotle, little was previously known about the signal content of such changes. Documenting the behavioral contexts and information content of these signals has provided an important first step in understanding the current function, underlying control mechanisms, and evolutionary origins of this rare signal type.

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Date Created
  • 2015

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Developmental plasticity: the influence of neonatal diet and immune challenges on carotenoid-based ornamental coloration and adult immune function in mallard ducks

Description

Conditions during development can shape the expression of traits at adulthood, a phenomenon called developmental plasticity. In this context, factors such as nutrition or health state during development can affect

Conditions during development can shape the expression of traits at adulthood, a phenomenon called developmental plasticity. In this context, factors such as nutrition or health state during development can affect current and subsequent physiology, body size, brain structure, ornamentation, and behavior. However, many of the links between developmental and adult phenotype are poorly understood. I performed a series of experiments using a common molecular currency - carotenoid pigments - to track somatic and reproductive investments through development and into adulthood. Carotenoids are red, orange, or yellow pigments that: (a) animals must acquire from their diets, (b) can be physiologically beneficial, acting as antioxidants or immunostimulants, and (c) color the sexually attractive features (e.g., feathers, scales) of many animals. I studied how carotenoid nutrition and immune challenges during ontogeny impacted ornamental coloration and immune function of adult male mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos). Male mallards use carotenoids to pigment their yellow beak, and males with more beaks that are more yellow are preferred as mates, have increased immune function, and have higher quality sperm. In my dissertation work, I established a natural context for the role that carotenoids and body condition play in the formation of the adult phenotype and examined how early-life experiences, including immune challenges and dietary access to carotenoids, affect adult immune function and ornamental coloration. Evidence from mallard ducklings in the field showed that variation in circulating carotenoid levels at hatch are likely driven by maternal allocation of carotenoids, but that carotenoid physiology shifts during the subsequent few weeks to reflect individual foraging habits. In the lab, adult beak color expression and immune function were more tightly correlated with body condition during growth than body condition during subsequent stages of development or adulthood. Immune challenges during development affected adult immune function and interacted with carotenoid physiology during adulthood, but did not affect adult beak coloration. Dietary access to carotenoids during development, but not adulthood, also affected adult immune function. Taken together, these results highlight the importance of the developmental stage in shaping certain survival-related traits (i.e., immune function), and lead to further questions regarding the development of ornamental traits.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Where Have the Carotenoids Gone? Physiology of Carotenoid Absorption And Distribution in Birds

Description

Organisms regularly face the challenge of having to accumulate and allocate limited resources toward life-history traits. However, direct quantification of how resources are accumulated and allocated is rare. Carotenoids are

Organisms regularly face the challenge of having to accumulate and allocate limited resources toward life-history traits. However, direct quantification of how resources are accumulated and allocated is rare. Carotenoids are among the best systems for investigating resource allocation, because they are diet-derived and multi-functional. Birds have been studied extensively with regard to carotenoid allocation towards life-history traits, but direct quantification of variation in carotenoid distribution on a whole-organism scale has yet to be done. Additionally, while we know that scavenger receptor B1 (SCARB1) is important for carotenoid absorption in birds, little is known about the factors that predict how SCARB1 is expressed in wild populations. For my dissertation, I first reviewed challenges associated with statistically analyzing tissue distributions of nutrients (nutrient profiles) and tested how tissue carotenoid distributions (carotenoid profiles) varied by sex, season, health state, and coloration in two bird species, house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) and zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Then, I investigated the relationship between dietary carotenoid availability, relative expression of SCARB1, and extent of carotenoid-based coloration in a comparative study of wood-warblers (Parulidae). In my review of studies analyzing nutrient profiles, I found that multivariate analyses were the most common, but studies rarely reported intercorrelations among nutrient types. In house finches, all tissue carotenoid profiles varied by sex, season, and coloration. For example, males during autumn (molt) had higher concentrations of 3-hydroxyechinenone (the major red carotenoid in sexually attractive male feathers) in most but not all tissues compared to other season and sex combinations. However, the relationship between color and carotenoid profiles depended on the color metric. In zebra finches, only muscle and spleen carotenoid profiles varied between immune-challenged and control birds. In wood-warblers, I found that capacity to absorb carotenoids was positively correlated with the evolution of carotenoid-based coloration but negatively associated with liver carotenoid accumulation. Altogether, my dissertation illustrates (a) the context-dependence of tissue carotenoid profile variation, (b) that carotenoid-based integumentary coloration is a reflection of tissue carotenoid profiles, and (c) that digestive physiology (e.g., carotenoid absorption) is an important consideration in the study of diet and coloration in wild birds.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2021