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Researchers show environmental changes may affect vital cooperate bird behaviors
Date:1/11/2011

New York, Jan. 11, 2011 -- While scientists believe that climate change and related extreme weather events such as drought and flooding will likely affect the earth's flora and fauna, just how much is not known. A new study by researchers Walter Jetz from Yale University and Dustin Rubenstein from Columbia University however shows an important link between the natural variation in climate conditions and complex behaviors among birds.

The study, which appears in print in Current Biology on Jan. 11, 2011, has implications for understanding how organisms may respond behaviorally to increased climate variability resulting from climate change. They argue that species that live in families may be better guarded against the effects of unpredictable climatic conditions.

Family-living, or cooperative breeding, is common among birds. Cooperative breeding societies, such as humans, are typically characterized by groups of relatives that work together to raise young. Usually, some birds forgo their own reproduction to help raise others' offspring. However, some cooperative breeding societies consist of groups of non-relatives that also work together in raising young. From Australia to the Amazon, cooperatively breeding birds account for approximately 831 speciesor nearly 10 percentof the nearly 10,000 avian species worldwide.

Using a behavioral data set of more than 95 percent of the world's birds, and a global 40-year climate dataset, the researchers examined how environmental factorslike mean and variation in temperature and rainfalland biotic factorslike body mass, diet breadth and typeinfluence the incidence and global distribution of family-living in birds.

"Scientists have long known that family-living birds are more common in some parts of the world than others," said Rubenstein, assistant professor of ecology, evolution & environmental biology. "But this is the first time that we have been able to study the geographic
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Contact: Clare Oh
clare.oh@columbia.edu
Columbia University
Source:Eurekalert

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