Pick Your Community: | Hopkins | Muhlenberg | Daviess | Christian | Henderson | Lakes | McCracken | Webster
Davis Motor Sales banner ad

For The Birds: Sparrow Research May Help Understand Human Parenting

for birds 300LEXINGTON, Ky. (11/28/13) – From humans to sparrows, individuals within a species display distinct "personalities" when it comes to behaviors. Taking an innovative approach to understanding how various factors impact behavioral patterns, David Westneat is working with a local population of house sparrows to understand how variables including local ecology, stress and hormones come together to affect the parenting behaviors of birds and other creatures.
 
Westneat, professor in the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences Department of Biology, has been awarded a four-year grant from the National Science Foundation for $670,000. As a behavioral ecologist with expertise on reproductive and social behavior, Westneat will use the grant to study variation in parenting patterns.
 
The current project "Parental care and the integration of personality and plasticity at multiple levels of phenotypic variance," focuses on variation in the way individual sparrows feed their nestlings and how they respond to changing factors such as the demand of the nestlings, changing seasons, the behavior of their partner, and the level of competition with other sparrows nearby.
 
"We have some birds with very parental personalities, who feed nestlings often, and some who are not so parental," said Westneat.
 
"The grant is partially to understand the linkage between the different mean levels of care and how flexible they are in response to changing conditions."
 
Working with co-investigators Rebecca Fox of Transylvania University and Matthew Schofield in the UK Department of Statistics, Westneat is studying the "gamble" that parent sparrows take each time they go out to forage for food for their nestlings. Because finding food is influenced by local ecology and food is often unpredictable, Westneat is interested in discovering if birds know enough about the nature of insect prey either to preferentially visit a place with low but more reliable food supplies as opposed to places where food is less reliably found, but the payoff is often greater in terms of the quality of the items there. This “gambling” could depend on how well their offspring are growing.
 
Westneat came to UK in 1990. In 1992, he began working with house sparrows on UK’s Maine Chance Farm. To date, he has tracked more than 12,000 individual birds studying behaviors. Today, his research is based at the UK Ecological Research Facility, a roughly 55-acre tract of old farmland on the north side of Lexington.
 
According to Westneat, the ultimate research goal is to have "a better understanding of how ecology affects the patterns of variation both within and among individuals, the consequences of this variation on reproductive output, and, if parents adjust their behavior, whether that is mediated by circulating levels of hormones."
 
"So we’re interested in corticosterone, which is a hormone that often responds to stress," Westneat said. "As every parent knows, kids make you stressed, and it’s no different in birds, but we don’t know exactly what that stress does to their behavior. So we’re interested in just what role that hormone plays in influencing patterns of behavior. We also suspect there is interplay between corticosterone and another hormone, prolactin, which in birds is involved with influencing their affiliation or their drive to come back to the nest, and attend to the 'kids'. These two hormones may work together to regulate how hard parents work to find food and how quickly they bring it to the nestlings. It could be they also influence when parents gamble in their decisions of where to forage.”
 
Ultimately, Westneat hopes to develop a broader understanding of the mechanisms by which phenotypes are controlled in animals, and the linkage between ecology, those mechanisms, and the expression of interesting behavior like parental care. Parental care is a particularly interesting behavior because obviously it’s how animals with dependent offspring are successful in reproducing. Yet, parents often have to decide between the current offspring and surviving themselves to produce additional offspring.
 
"There are some really interesting ideas about the evolution of just enough parental care, and so all these findings about the unpredictability of food, parental flexibility, and the underlying hormonal mechanisms adds to our understanding of those bigger decisions," Westneat said. "We thus expect parents to provide only so much care, but we don’t really know how local ecology, especially unpredictable aspects like where food is, might affect this bigger decision. Our studies of sparrows thus may contribute to understanding why variation in parenting behavior exists across all sorts of organisms, including humans."

SurfKY News
Article provided by Allison Elliott-Shannon

© Copyright 2014 SurfKY News Group, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, or rewritten without permission. SurfKY News encourages you to share this story by using one of the social media links below.

Posted on 2/2/14
3/13 - 16
2/6/2014 - posted
3/13 - 16
button coupons

Stock Report

1 DOW 17,804.80
+26.65 (0.15%)    
2 S&P 2,070.65
+9.42 (0.46%)    
3 NASDAQ 4,765.38
0.00 (0.00%)    
2/6/2014 - posted
3/13 - 16
2/6/2014 - posted
3/13 - 16
button classifieds
2/6/2014 - posted
3/13 - 16

Most Read This Week

December 16, 2014 10623

Coal Miner Fatally Injured in Underground Mining…

in Top News For All Sites by Dick Brown
December 17, 2014 7552

Elderly Couple Found Shot to Death in Muhlenberg

in Local (Muhlenberg) Top News by Trooper Stu Recke
December 17, 2014 6769

Three Men Charged with Burglary

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Madisonville Police Department
December 15, 2014 5098

Hopkins County Woman Charged Second Time in Two…

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Charles W. Riley II, SurfKY News
December 15, 2014 4549

Woman Leads Police on High-Speed Chase in Stolen…

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Madisonville Police
December 19, 2014 4360

Dawson Springs Man Charged with Sexual Abuse of…

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Detective Sean McCance
December 19, 2014 4197

Armstrong Mine to Layoff 39 by End of Day

in Top News For All Sites by Rita Dukes Smith, SurfKY News Director
December 18, 2014 4106

Cat Scratching over Dog Ownership Escalates

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Amber Averitt, SurfKY News
December 19, 2014 3931

Woman Flown to St. Mary's after Two-Car Collision

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Trooper Stu Recke
December 16, 2014 3776

Highway Crews Pre-Treating Roadways for Potential…

in Hopkins News by Keith Todd

Stories Trending Today

December 19, 2014 3234

Vehicle Fire Causes Traffic Back-Up on Pennyrile

in Local (Hopkins) Top News by Doreen Dennis
December 19, 2014 1313

Greenville Mayor Honored during Final Council…

in Local (Muhlenberg) Top News by Charles W. Riley II, SurfKY News
December 20, 2014 1196

KET’s Kentucky Life Segment to Feature Old…

in Local (Muhlenberg) Top News by Paul McRee, SurfKY News
December 20, 2014 1015

New Trial Sites Added for U of L's Brown Cancer…

in General News For All Sites by Health Sciences News
December 20, 2014 933

WKU Public Affairs Claims 17 Statewide Awards

in General News For All Sites by WKU News
December 20, 2014 930

Farmers' Markets, Vendors; Sign Up for Free…

in General News For All Sites by Ted Sloan
December 20, 2014 907

'When the Universe Was Young' Opens Jan. 4 at…

in General News For All Sites by WKU News
December 20, 2014 907

Law Enforcement Officers, Agencies Honored for…

in General News For All Sites by Erin Eggen
December 20, 2014 888

Happenings and Meetings - Hopkins County

in Hopkins News by Amber Averitt, SurfKY News
December 20, 2014 831

City of Madisonville Holiday Schedule

in Hopkins News by Leslie Curneal

SurfKY News Group, Inc.
Corporate Office & Studio
1125 Nebo Rd.  •  Madisonville, KY 42431
270.452.2727 (phone)
  •  270.452.2249 (fax)


Contact a member of our staff: www.surfky.com/contact
Copyright © 2014 SurfKY News Group, Inc.  •  Terms of Use  •  Site Map

social fbsocial twsocial yt
social gpsocial flrsocial rss