Publication details

A trade off between feather growth rate and feather stiffness in tropical and temperate songbirds

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Year of publication 2023
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Description The bird feather is the most complicated skin derivative in vertebrates. It has a essential function in thermoregulation, colouration, mate or flight. Above all, the quality and mechanical properties of the feather are essential for its flight capabilities. Mechanical properties of the feather can be measured relatively easily using a bending test under laboratory conditions. Combined with measurements of the growth rate of the feather, this information gives us insight into the specific trade off between feather growth rate and mechanical properties of feathers. In this study, we compare the stiffness and growth rate of wing feathers in a dataset of 394 individuals of 129 songbird species from temperate and tropical zones (Czech Republic, Cameroon). The species included in the analysis differ significantly in their migratory behaviour, with resident species, short- and long-distance migrants that overflying thousands of kilometres in their annual migratory journey being represented. All tropical species, on the other hand, are sedentary, which offers an interesting comparison allowing to reveal differences in investment in feathers between tropical and temperate songbird species. As expected, the results confirmed that species with longer migration distances exhibit stiffer feathers. After filtering out the effect of migration distance, tropical species exhibit lower feather stiffness compared to their temperate relatives, as well as faster flight growth. This may point to a specific adaptation of tropical bird species, which need to have fast-growing wing feathers at the expense of their mechanical properties.
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