13th EOU Congress 2022

Giessen, Germany
March, 15, 2022

Plenary Speakers

photo: Daniel Jakli

Veronika Bókony

Veronika Bókony

Plant Protection Institute, Centre for Agricultural Research, Budapest, Hungary
I am an evolutionary ecologist and my main research question is how animals are affected by, and adapt to, anthropogenic environmental changes. I have been studying the effects of habitat urbanization on small passerine birds’ behavior, physiology, and breeding success, and the consequences of climate change for avian migration and reproduction. In recent years I broadened the scope of my research to investigate similar questions in other taxa, and to study how human-induced habitat changes such as chemical pollution and climate change may influence sex development and sex ratios in wildlife populations.
Behavioural ecology of birds in urban environments

Veronika Bókony, Lendület Evolutionary Ecology Research Group, Plant Protection Institute, Centre for Agricultural Research, Eötvös Loránd Research Network, Budapest, Hungary

Urbanization is one of the most salient forms of human-induced environmental change currently affecting Earth’s biota. The past two decades have seen a flourishing in evolutionary-ecological research aimed at understanding the effects of habitat urbanization on wild animals at the individual and population levels, and birds have been playing a major role as model organisms in this endeavour. This plenary provides an overview of characteristic examples of how urbanization changes birds’ morphology, physiology and behaviour, and how this might contribute to their adaptation to city life in terms of exploiting novel resources, dealing with predation risk and human disturbance, withstanding heat stress, and raising offspring in an altered “foodscape”. I will highlight the similarities and differences in avian responses to urbanization by comparing the findings on two species: the Great Tit, a former forest specialist that has colonized urban habitats in the previous century and is generally perceived as a pleasant bird by the public, and the House Sparrow, a human commensalist that has been evolving in anthropogenic habitats for thousands of years and has traditionally been regarded as a pest. I will also point out the most important knowledge gaps that future research needs to fill for a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms behind, and the consequences of, phenotypic changes observed in urban populations.

Nikita Chernetsov

Nikita Chernetsov

Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia
I am interested in avian migration with a particular focus on orientation and navigation mechanisms the birds use to reach the goal(s) of their movements. I am mainly doing behavioural experiments on migrating birds, but I am also collaborating a lot with biophysicists, sensory physiologists and neurobiologists in order to obtain a mechanistic understanding of avian orientation and navigation.
How migrating birds find their way: compasses and maps

Nikita Chernetsov, Zoological Institute RAS, St. Petersburg, Russian Federation and St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russian Federation

Billions of birds move between their breeding and non-breeding quarters annually, often covering hundreds and thousands of kilometres. To perform these feats, the birds need a positioning system (a map) and a compass system, as conceptualized by Gustav Kramer some 70 years ago. Most students of avian navigation agree that migratory birds are able to use the sun, the star pattern and the geomagnetic field for compass orientation. Current advances in this area mainly concern the molecular, cellular and neurobiological bases of magnetoreception which remained enigmatic until very recently. Another intriguing topic in the study of avian compass systems is how different systems interact and result in migrating birds choosing the correct direction of flight on the basis of multiple sources of information. Unlike compass systems, there is less agreement on the physical nature and sensory basis of positioning systems of long-distance migrants. Two kinds of maps seem to be relevant for migrating birds: magnetic maps and olfactory maps. For a long period, these two hypotheses were considered to be alternative and mutually exclusive. It seems that the proponents of both hypotheses were right to some degree: migrating birds seem to use both magnetic and olfactory positioning systems, possibly at different spatial scales. Positioning systems based on the gradients of the geomagnetic field alone cannot account for the remarkable spatial accuracy of navigation shown by migrating birds. Fine-tuning must be based on another physical, and this sensory, principle, and it is entirely possible that this is olfaction.

Lukas Jenni

Lukas Jenni

Swiss Ornithological Institute, Sempach, Switzerland
My research focussed on bird migration and its ecophysiology, the ecophysiology of stress, and the moult of birds. I was also involved in many other projects at the Swiss Ornithological Institute and supervised studies in avian ecology and conservation. Since retirement, I am interested in follow-up studies on bird migration, feather structure and growth, and how birds react to human stressors.
Moult: an essential, but underrated, process with multiple effects on a bird’s biology

Lukas Jenni, Swiss Ornithological Institute, Sempach, Switzerland

Feathers, being dead structures, are subject to wear and hence must be replaced periodically during moult. However, the replacement of feathers presents several difficulties: feathers cannot grow continuously, like hair or claws; feathers can only be renewed from follicles existing since embryonic times; a feather can only be replaced after the old one has fallen off; a growing feather must finish growth, it cannot interrupt growth. Therefore, the replacement of feathers inevitably results in temporary gaps in the plumage which vary in number depending on the number of concurrently growing feathers (i.e., moult speed). In this talk, I will explore the constraints imposed by moult during the moult period, such as the question of how energetically expensive moult is, what the physiological consequences and interactions with other processes are, and how moult can be fitted into the annual cycle. I will also show how conditions during moult affect the quality of the new feathers, ornamental and non-ornamental, and hence the performance of the individual bird, aspects which are particularly interesting for behavioural ecologists.

Anna Qvarnström

Anna Qvarnström

Department of Ecology and Genetics, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Sweden
My team uses a young secondary contact zone between pied and collared flycatchers on the island of Öland in the Baltic Sea, Sweden as a “natural laboratory” to study speciation. In particular, we are interested in how population divergence in ecological adaptations, such as climate adaptation, relates to the build-up of different sources of reproductive isolation. We also study environmental factors (e.g., habitat heterogeneity) and evolutionary processes (e.g., character displacement) that mitigate ecological competition and reproductive interference between young species once they are formed.
Climate change and evolutionary rescue in birds

Anna Qvarnström, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

As climate change accelerates, natural populations face a strong risk of extinction. The long-term persistence of these populations depends on their ability to phenotypically adapt either through plastic responses or through genetic responses (i.e. evolutionary rescue). To increase the likelihood of evolutionary rescue, we need to better integrate concepts from evolutionary ecology into strategies of wildlife management. In this talk, I argue that studies on birds play a central role in this integration for several reasons. One such reason is our ability to measure detailed demographic parameters in long-term population studies of birds. This means that we can study genetic evolution irl and extrapolate the gained knowledge to less well studied species of birds due to large-scaled sequencing efforts of this charismatic group of organisms. In many bird species breeding in the northern hemisphere, the negative effects of climate change manifest themselves in the form of phenological mismatch between the peak in prey availability and the peak in offspring need for food. Recent studies of Ficedula flycatchers have revealed that Pied Flycatchers are more robust to this mismatch compared to Collared Flycatchers, despite large similarities in niche use between these two species. This difference in robustness appears, at least partly, to be explained by nestling Pied Flycatchers having a more plastic metabolic rate. I will discuss how these findings can be built upon for future work using this study system and extrapolated into predictions about other species’ ability to adapt to climate change (or not). 

Claire Spottiswoode

Claire Spottiswoode

FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town

Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge

I am fascinated by species interactions such as parasitism and mutualism. My two main areas of research are coevolution between between brood-parasitic birds (particularly cuckoo finches and honeyguides) and their hosts, in Zambia; and mutualism between honeyguides and the human honey-hunters with whom they cooperate to gain access to bees’ nests, in Mozambique and elsewhere in eastern Africa. Both projects involve close cooperation with rural communities, and rely on their local field knowledge and skill.
Show me the honey: the natural history of a bird-human mutualism

Claire Spottiswoode, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa and University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom

Greater honeyguides are remarkable mutualistic partners of our own species, whom they lead to wild bees’ nests. Honeyguides know where bees’ nests are located and eat beeswax, whereas human honey-hunters know how to subdue the bees and open the nest, exposing wax for the honeyguides and honey for the humans. Human and honeyguide populations vary intriguingly in whether and how they rely upon, communicate with and reward one another, and how their mutualism influences the surrounding ecosystem. This talk will share our team’s research from Mozambique and Tanzania that investigates how such learnt traits influence how the mutualism is maintained, giving rise to a hypothesis of cultural coevolution between species.  Reciprocal learning may have led to a geographical mosaic of honeyguide behavioural variation that maps onto the cultures of their human partners, across those places in Africa where this part of our own evolutionary history still thrives.

With thanks to our local partners

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