Scientists from Griffith University have taken part in an international study which has revealed the genetic secrets of how a small bird can survive in one of the most hostile environments on earth.
The ground tit (Parus humilis), lives in the Tibetan plateau, the largest high-altitude land mass in the world. This study has found molecular signatures in the ground tit genome which reveal how it copes with the extreme living conditions of this habitat.
Professor David Lambert and Dr Sankar Subramanian from Griffith University's Environmental Futures Centre took part in the study.
"We have long known that these birds are well adapted to living with low oxygen levels, typical of high elevation, but until now we have had only a limited understanding of the genetic background of these adaptations," Dr Subramanian said.
"In this study we have identified the genetic modifications of the species which make this possible," he said.
Findings of the study gave been published in a paper entitled "Ground tit genome reveals avian adaptation to living at high altitudes in the Tibetan plateau" in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.
Unlike its tree-dwelling relatives, the drab-coloured little songbird lives exclusively above the tree line at 3,300 to 5,400 m, on rocky steppes and grasslands of the Tibetan plateau. As a consequence of its location, it also behaves differently by foraging on the ground and digging burrows or tunnels for roosting and nesting. It looks different too with a longer, straighter bill, longer legs, larger body size and paler overall plumage.
Because of all these divergent characteristics, the ground tit was long considered to belong to the crow family. Only later was it was shown not to be not the world's smallest corvid, but rather the world's largest tit.
"Our genomic study further confirms this taxonomic conclusion. The ancestor of the ground tit sp
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