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Native forest birds in unprecedented trouble, according to University of Hawaii at Manoa researchers
Date:1/19/2012

Native birds at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge are in unprecedented trouble, according to a paper recently published in the journal PLoS ONE. The paper, titled "Changes in timing, duration, and symmetry of molt of Hawaiian forest birds," was authored by University of Hawai'i at Mānoa Zoology Professor Leonard Freed and Cell and Molecular Biology Professor Rebecca Cann.

In the paper, Freed and Cann report that birds are now so food-deprived that they take up to twice as long replace their feathers, an annual process known as molt. The authors confirmed the hypothesis that Japanese white-eye (Zosterops japonicus) birds are effectively competing with most species of native birds. Their research found that both young and adult birds took longer to complete their molt. Young birds normally complete their juvenile molt in five months, beginning before June and ending in October. Now it is taking the birds as late as March of the following year to finish that molt. Adults are also taking that much longer to replace their feathers. Freed and Cann propose that this change in molt matches those in studies that experimentally starve birds.

In addition, the authors report that more adults are beginning their molt early, during months when they normally breed. Some molting females even had active brood patches. Birds generally avoid this overlap in their life history because both activities require extra energy. In their study, Freed and Cann have identified that the endangered Hawai'i creeper had the greatest molting changes. The record change for an individual bird, a Hawai'i amakihi, was set by an individual that finished its juvenile molt from the previous year in March only to begin its adult molt in May. All Hawaiian honeycreepers had significant changes.

Usually birds molt the same primary flight feathers on the two wings at the same time to maintain maneuverability. However, by 2002, all species
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Contact: Leonard Freed
lfreed@hawaii.edu
808-956-8655
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Source:Eurekalert

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