Highlights from the latest issue
October 2020 | Vol. 162, issue 4
In another packed we have 16 full papers, four short communications and our regular book reviews.
Here, Editor in Chief, Dominic McCafferty, has selected four of his highlights.
- REVIEW ARTICLE | BIRDS AND PUBLIC HEALTH
Implications of bacterial, viral and mycotic microorganisms in vultures for wildlife conservation, ecosystem services and public health
Pablo I. Plaza, Guillermo Blanco & Sergio A. Lambertucci
Given recent concerns regarding the transfer of pathogens between wild animals and humans, Pablo Plaza and colleagues provide a highly topical review of bacterial, viral and mycotic microorganisms present in wild vultures. Especially relevant to conservation is their consideration of the potential of these microorganisms to cause disease in vultures and also whether vultures may act as disease spreaders or mitigators. Plaza et al. reviewed studies of 13 vulture species and showed that vultures are colonized by a range of zoonotic pathogens, and even host-specific human pathogens with some recorded bacteria even showing multi-antibiotic resistance. There was no clear evidence that vultures play an epidemiological role spreading microorganisms to humans and other species. However, very importantly in the context of human epidemiology, vultures could mitigate the spread of infectious diseases through their removal of decomposing organic material.
- ORIGINAL ARTICLE | ACTIVITY PATTERNS
The effects of season, sex, age and weather on population‐level variation in the timing of activity in Eurasian Blue Tits Cyanistes caeruleus
JeffLotte Schlicht & Bart Kempenaers
Activity patterns and use of roost sites by birds appears to be a trait shaped by both natural and sexual selection, but factors influencing variation in the timing of this activity is not well studied. To address this knowledge gap, Lotte Schlicht and Bart Kempenaers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology examined variation in activity of Eurasian Blue Tits roosting in nestboxes in mixed-deciduous woodland over a 7-year period. In this study, Schlicht and Kempenaers found that the time when birds left their night-time roost was relatively constant in relation to sunrise during winter and this changed considerably when breeding, while the end of activity was later relative to sunset in mid‐winter. Interestingly, these researchers found that females generally started their activity later in the day and ended it earlier than males. However, it was clear that weather also influenced daily activity, with rain decreasing the duration of activity and warmer seasonal temperatures increasing time active.
- ORIGINAL ARTICLE | HABITAT USE
Vegetation structure influences predation rates of early nests in subarctic breeding waders
Rebecca A. Laidlaw, Tómas G. Gunnarsson, Verónica Méndez, Camilo Carneiro, Böðvar Þórisson, Adam Wentworth, Jennifer A. Gill & José A. Alves
Ground‐nesting birds are vulnerable to predation but factors influencing the success of nest concealment and camouflage strategies in ground‐nesting species are complex. In this south Iceland study, Laidlaw and colleagues examined the effects of local vegetation structure and the extent of nest concealment on nest predation rates in six species of ground‐nesting, sympatric waders with differing nest concealment strategies. Nest predation rates were high, around 40% and were similar for open‐nest and concealed‐nesting waders but nest‐concealing species were 10% more likely to have nests predated, In fact, the frequency of poorly concealed nests was greater in colder breeding conditions when vegetation growth was also low. Warmer springs at subarctic latitudes could therefore result in more rapid vegetation growth, thereby increasing the success rate of early nests. Laidlaw et al. now believe that temperature‐related effects on nest concealment from predators is an important mechanism through which climate change may have population‐level impacts on high latitude birds.
- SHORT COMMUNICATION | OOLOGY
New insights from old eggs – the shape and thickness of Great Auk Pinguinus impennis eggs
Tim Birkhead, Douglas Russell, Amin Garbout, Marie Attard, Jamie Thompson & Duncan Jackson
Comparative research may provide insights into the biology of extinct species of birds. In this fascinating piece of detective work, Tim Birkhead and collaborators examined the shape and eggshell thickness of Great Auk eggs with those of its closest relatives, the Razorbill, Common Guillemot and Brünnich’s Guillemot (Murres) to gain further information on this extinct auk species. Based on some similarities in egg shape, Birkhead et al. suggest that Great Auk incubated in an upright posture in open habitat with little or no nest, where its pyriform (pear shaped) egg provided stability and safety during incubation. The researchers speculate that a single brood patch, a pyriform egg and upright incubation is the ancestral state, and that the Razorbill, the Great Auk’s closest relative, secondarily evolved two brood patches and an elliptical egg, allowing breeding in different range of nest sites.
Cinereous Vulture | Juan Lacruz CC BY SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons
Eurasian Blue Tit | TheOtherKev CC0 PD pixabay.com
Eurasian Oystercatcher | John Haslam CC BY 2.0 Flickr
Great Auk egg | Adophe Millot from Nouveau Larousse Illustré  CC PD-mark | PD old Wikimedia Commons