Department of
Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior

Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior News

When warblers warn of cowbirds, blackbirds get the message

This is the story of three bird species and how they interact. The brown-headed cowbird plays the role of outlaw: It lays its eggs in other birds’ nests and lets them raise its young – often at the expense of the host’s nestlings. To combat this threat, yellow warblers have developed a special “seet” call that means, “Look out! Cowbird!”

In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign report that red-winged blackbirds respond to the seet call as if they know what it means.

Study tracks genomic changes that reinforce darter speciation

Researchers sequenced the genome of the orangethroat darter, pictured, and compared it with that of the rainbow darter, a closely related species. They also hybridized the two species to determine the factors that drive them to diverge.

Professor Andrew Suarez elected AAAS Fellow

Eight professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to include Entomology's and EEB's Andrew Suarez, have been elected 2019 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Suarez, a professor of entomology and head of the department of evolution, ecology and behavior, is a leading figure in conservation and invasion biology.

Birds Raised by Other Species Use 'Password' to Recognize Their Own Kind

Cowbirds outsource parenting to other species, but an innate password tells their children to copy cowbird songs. Chicago's Sarah London, Illinois' Mark Hauber and Tokyo's Matthew Louder discovered this "password" call, that cowbirds know innately.

Bateman’s Cowbirds – A closer look at monogamy and polygamy in brood parasitic birds

Researchers at the University of Illinois have shown through a multi-year study that cowbirds (Molothrus ater) conform to Bateman’s Principle, which holds that reproductive success is greater in males than in females when they have more mates. Cowbirds are distinct from 99% of other bird species in that they are brood parasites and lay their eggs in nests of birds of other species for them to raise. The researchers confirm a 70-year old theory that males in this species are more likely than females to have greater variation in the number of offspring they produce.

Fish fathers exhibit signatures of “baby brain” that may aid parental behavior

Many new parents are familiar with terms like “baby brain” or “mommy brain” that hint at an unavoidable decline in cognitive function associated with the hormonal changes of pregnancy, childbirth, and maternal caregiving. A new study of parental care in stickleback fish is a reminder that such parenting-induced changes in the brain and associated shifts in cognition and behavior are not just for females—and they’re not just for mammals either.

Left eye? Right eye? American robins have preference when looking at decoy eggs

Just as humans are usually left- or right-handed, other species sometimes prefer one appendage, or eye, over the other. A new study reveals that American robins that preferentially use one eye significantly more than the other when looking at their own clutch of eggs are also more likely to detect, and reject, a foreign egg placed in their nest by another bird species – or by a devious scientist.

Illinois Units, Foundation Fund Purchase of Animal MRI at Beckman Institute

A Bruker 9.4 Tesla preclinical animal MRI system will be sited at the Beckman Institute. The addition of the system to the institute’s Biomedical Imaging Center will aid in research in many areas, including brain development and function, and cellular mechanisms in cancer. The installation project will begin this fall and is expected to take a year.

Taking bird research to new heights

Mark Hauber broadens our understanding of the avian world