Wildfire threatens the survival of endangered purple-crowned fairy-wrens living along the rivers and creeks of northern Australia, our new research has found.
For almost two decades, we studied the fairy-wrens at a wildlife sanctuary in the far north of Western Australia. Over this time, one low-intensity fire and one high-intensity fire burnt through our study site. Both occurred late in the wet season, when fires generally burn at lower intensity.
Endangered fairy-wrens survive Kimberley floods
When ex-Tropical Cyclone Ellie inundated the Kimberley with record flooding earlier this year the region and its inhabitants experienced large-scale devastation. This included the area’s native wildlife, with mass loss of life and habitat. But now, amidst the loss, there’s some good news to share.
Fieldwork in floodwaters
January 2nd, 2023. We had taken our radios to bed the night before, just as a precaution. The water was already up to the parking area, which was as high as anyone had ever seen it, and it was still raining. I dislike rain generally and resent the periodic floods of the Wet season because they wash away the nests we’ve found, but I was looking forward to sleeping past 3:45am. It’s too dangerous to work along the creek when it’s raging, so storms give us a brief break from crack-of-dawn nest searching.
Fairy-wrens are more likely to help their closest friends but not strangers, just like us humans.
Multilevel societies are among the most complex societies known in nature. They are organised like Russian nesting dolls – individuals belong to family groups, which belong to clans, which belong to tribes. At each level, the relationships between these social units (individuals, families, clans and tribes) are stable and predictable. Such a social structure, which has been described in some primates , whales, elephants and more recently in birds, has likely characterised much of human evolution. In fact, it’s still common among many hunter-gatherer societies around the world.
Even though multilevel societies are documented across the animal world, it’s not entirely clear what their benefits are.
Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary evacuation
Each year countless purple-crowned fairy-wren nests are washed away in monsoonal floods that sweep across northern Australia. On 2 January, the Monash researchers studying fairy-wren ecology at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary in the Central Kimberley got their own taste of these floods when ex-tropical cyclone Ellie brought once-in-a-century floods to the region. Researchers and AWC staff living on sanctuary during the flood were safely evacuated to Broome. Although the waters have receded at the research station, it will likely be some months before conservation and research activity will resume.
Ornaments are equally informative in male and female birds.
New paper published:
Nolazco S, Delhey K, Nakagawa S, Peters A. 2022. Ornaments are equally informative in male and female birds. Nature Communication. 13(1):5917. doi:10.1038/s41467-022-33548-7.
Female ornaments are often reduced, male-like traits. Although these were long perceived as non-functional, it is now broadly accepted that female ornaments can be adaptive. However, it is unclear whether this is as common in females as it is in males, and whether ornaments fulfil similar signalling roles. Here, we apply a bivariate meta-analysis to a large dataset of ornaments in mutually ornamented birds. As expected, female ornament expression tends to be reduced compared to males. However …..
We know heatwaves kill animals. But new research shows the survivors don’t get off scot-free
Extreme heat waves can cause birds and mammals to die en masse. But it’s more common for an animal to experience relatively mild heat stress that doesn’t kill it. Our new findings suggest that unfortunately, these individuals can suffer long-term health damage.
Our study, published today, describes how exposure to hot and dry conditions can damage the DNA of nestling birds in their first few days of life. This can mean they age earlier, die younger and produce less offspring.
“AWC in Conversation” live Webinar
For more than 15 years, a team of scientists led by Professor Anne Peters of Monash University has been studying a population of the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren, one of northern Australia’s most exquisite birds. Their wide-ranging project has uncovered fascinating details about the fairy-wrens’
(The most social) bird of the year: why superb fairy-wren societies may be as complex as our own
One mystery many biologists want to solve is how complexity develops in nature. And among the many social systems in the natural world, multilevel societies stand out for their complexity. Individuals first organise into families, which are members of bands, which are organised into clans.
Iconic Australian fairy-wrens live in complex multilevel society, international study finds
The research team studied social behaviour in a wild population of superb fairy-wrens, that breed cooperatively in small groups. They tracked almost 200 birds over two years by attaching a different coloured leg band to each individual. During this time, they observed who was hanging out with who and used their observations to build a complex network of the birds’ social associations.
Fairy-wrens calculate their benefits when coming to aid others threatened by predators
Avoiding predation is key for surviving in the wild and helping with predator defense seems a risky, selfless act.
“Such seemingly altruistic helping behaviour has puzzled biologists for a long time, because it does not make sense to risk your own life to help others without some offsetting benefits, but these have been hard to identify,” said lead study author Dr Niki Teunissen from the Monash University School of Biological Sciences.
Purple Crowned Fairy Wren unlocks key to immune function
“Maintaining constitutive immune function (immune surveillance) is important for individuals to be prepared for new infections, but is potentially costly to the individual,” said lead study author, Dr Michael Roast, from the Monash University School of Biological Sciences.
“These costs can’t be measured using experimental methods that introduce immune challenges,” he said.
Roast Michael J., Aranzamendi Nataly Hidalgo, Fan Marie, Teunissen Niki, Hall Matthew D. and Peters Anne 2020. Fitness outcomes in relation to individual variation in constitutive innate immune function. Proc. R. Soc. B.2872020199720201997. doi:10.1098/rspb.2020.1997
Flies AS, WACI Consortium. 2020. Rewilding immunology. Science 369 (6499), 37-38
Watch out for those Dr. Teunissen publications:
Purple-crowned fairy-wren favours rain for breeding.
The study confirms that our monsoonal birds, just like birds from the arid zone, are highly tuned to rainfall, something that was previously suspected but not formally quantified.
The researchers followed more than 500 nesting attempts from almost 200 pairs over five years to test which external factors regulate reproduction.
The results of the study are published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
Dr. McQueen, with flying colours !
Student award success!
Sergio Nolazco Plasier was awarded a Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment Grant for the project “Why are females ornamented? Testing competing hypotheses in an Australian passerine with mutual ornamentation”
Ettore Camerlenghi was awarded Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment Grant for the project “Social networking during the non-breeding season: drivers and fitness implications of social complexity”
Sergio Nolazco Plasier was awarded a BirdLife Student Travel Award to attend the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour Conference in Waiheke Island, July 2019
Niki Teunissen was awarded a BirdLife Student Travel Award to attend the Australasian Ornithological Conference in Darwin, July 2019
Kaspar published two very cool papers on Gloger’s Rule:
It’s official – we have a DR. Fan!!
Michael’s first PhD chapter
Justin strikes twice: an exciting telomere paper
Marie’s second paper was published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, it is a lovely paper. Check out the press release and video here.
We are very proud that Sjouke has been awarded The 2018 Dutch Zoology Prize (Nederlandse Zoölogieprijs 2018) for his work on ecological and evolutionary processes underlying group living and cooperation in animals.
Alex won BirdLife Australia & Birds New Zealand Prize for the best student talk at the Australasian Ornithological Conference 2017, and Michael won runner-up best student poster at the same conference!
Australian Geographic feature
Front cover of the special issue
Successful field season
Field season May/June 2015 in full swing.
Successful student applications
Two successful students applications: Alex McQueen will study superb fairy-wrens, and Marie Fan will join the purple-crowned fairy-wren team. Well done ladies!
Delhey K, V Delhey, B Kempenaers & A Peters. In press. A practical framework to analyse variation in animal colours using visual models. Behav. Ecol.
We present a user-friendly approach to analyse colour variability that summarizes complex patterns of chromatic variation within the perceptual space of receivers. This novel framework integrates into a single analysis the two pieces of information usually derived from visual models: cone stimulation values and pairwise contrasts between colours.
Check the paper out here.
ARC Discovery grant success, Anne with collaborator Simon Verhulst (Groningen University) were awarded a DP15 “Immune defense, disease and damage control in the wild “.
Watch this space, advert for post-doc to follow soon.
New publication in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
New publication in press at Journal of Avian Biology
Janet L. Gardner, Tatsuya Amano, Patrica R. Y. Backwell, Karen Ikin, William J. Sutherland and Anne Peters
Article first published online: 27 JUN 2014 | DOI: 10.1111/jav.00431
Janet L. Gardner, Tatsuya Amano, Brendan G. Mackey, William J. Sutherland, Mark Clayton and Anne Peters
Dynamic size responses to climate change: prevailing effects of rising temperature drive long-term body size increases in a semi-arid passerine
Global Change Biology
Accepted manuscript online: 19 DEC 2013 | DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12507