There is no song copyright in the birdcall industry

Even if it is your first time in the Amazon forest or you are lucky enough to live and enjoy a green heaven like it, you will be enchanted by its colors, the moist aroma of rain falling on the low nutrient Amazonian soil, as well as a chorus of melodies displaying harmonic rhythm, from low to high pitch sounds, music that represents breath, words, and life. These last three representations could not better describe the importance of animal vocalization in a tropical rainforest. Among birds, specifically, this is a critical way they communicate among one another in competition for mates and territories.

Hypocnemis peruviana (male) by Joe Tobias

Inability to differentiate vocal signals within and between species could lead to unnecessary territorial aggression, negative impacts on a species reproductive success (i.e. unfit hybrids), and overall fitness. Therefore it is expected that birdsongs are specific for every species, particularly in dense forests like Amazonia, where vocal signals are more valuable and efficient than visual cues. So, is it possible for two sympatric bird species (not closely related) to sing the same songs?

The answer is YES! Research conducted by LABO Advisory group members at Los Amigos in 2008, Professor J. Tobias and N. Seddon, found that two Neotropical antbirds species have almost identical songs, making this the first evidence demonstrating that convergent evolution (i.e. organisms of different lineages evolving similar traits) can occur through social interactions between species.

The studied species were two sympatric Hypocnemis antbirds: H. peruviana and H. subflava, which are highly abundant organisms inhabiting the understory of Los Amigos forest. Hypocnemis antbirds are small monogamous passerine birds, and molecular tests have showed that H. peruviana and H. subflava are non-sister species and were split from a common ancestor ~3.4 million years ago. Even though they have been part of different lineages a long time ago, both species share similar foraging behavior, diet, six standard body morphological measurements. However these species do differ in  their plumage color (Figure 1 and 2). Moreover, songs in suboscine passerine birds, such as Hypocnemis, are not learned and instead are genetically determined, however this had been challenged by other studies that suggest that vocal learning does lead to song differences in suboscines. Hypocnemis vocalizations play important roles in intrasexual competition, mate attraction and territory defense. From all the characteristics mentioned above, it is assumed that highly territorial organisms must rely on vocal signals specificity to discriminate between species and individuals.

Hypocnemis subflava (male) by Joe Tobias

Dr. Tobias and Dr. Seddon analyzed 343 songs of 96 sympatric individuals (H. subflava and H. peruviana) through acoustic and playback experiments at Los Amigos, and demonstrated that territorial songs in males are more similar than non-territorial signals between both species, not allowing males to discriminate the territorial signals of individuals of the same and different species. The same pattern was found in females. How could this phenomenon be explained? First, even though H. subflava and H. peruviana are partially segregated by habitat, both species interact regularly at territory boundaries, increasing the likelihood of rivalry for space and food. This latter explanation is supported by the fact that both antbirds are not migratory birds and neither move outside their territory. LABO Advisory members suggested that song convergence must be a consequence of selection forces caused by competition between species, which is supported by several studies showing that song matching (i.e. answering with a similar song) is an aggressive display in territory disputes, within and between species!

For more reference:

1. Tobias, J.A. & Seddon, N. (2009). Signal design and perception in Hypocnemis antbirds: Evidence for convergent evolution via social selection. Evolution 63, 3168-3189.

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MAAP #80: Amazon Beauty, in High-Resolution

MAAP tracks the most urgent deforestation cases in the Andean Amazon, thus it can be a bit depressing. However, it is important to remember why we do it: the Amazon is spectacular.

Image 80. Base Map. Data: SERNANP, MAAP
Image 80. Base Map. Data: SERNANP, MAAP

Here, we present a series of high-resolution satellite images to show the incredible beauty of the Peruvian Amazon, and help remind us all why it is so important to protect.

All the images, obtained from DigitalGlobe, are both recent and very high resolution (less than 0.5 meters). Together, they form an art exhibition, starring the forests, rivers, and mountains of the Peruvian Amazon.

The categories of the images are: “Protected Areas” and “Threatened Areas.”

The Protected Areas include National Parks (Yaguas, Sierra del Divisor, and Manu); National Reserve (Tambopata); Communal Reserve (Amarakaeri); and Regional Conservation Area (Choquequirao).

The Threatened Areas include areas at risk due to gold mining, road construction, hydroelectric dams, and new oil palm and cacao plantations.

Click on each image to enlarge. See the base map for the location of each image (A-M).

MAAP #79: Seeing Through the Clouds: Monitoring Deforestation With Radar

MAAP has repeatedly emphasized the power and importance of Earth observation satellites with optical sensors (such as Landsat, Planet, DigitalGlobe).

Imagen 79. Satélite de radar, Sentinel-1. Creado por MAAP
Imagen 79. Satélite de radar, Sentinel-1. Creado por MAAP

However, they also have a key limitation: clouds block the data about Earth from reaching the sensor, a common problem in rainy regions like the Amazon.

Fortunately, there is another powerful tool with a unique capability: satellites with radar sensors, which emit their own energy that can pass through the clouds (see Image).

Since 2014, the European Space Agency has provided free imagery from its radar satellites, known as Sentinel-1.

In the Peruvian Amazon, for example, Sentinel-1 obtains imagery every 12 days with a resolution of ~20 meters.

Here, we show the power of radar imagery in terms of near real-time deforestation monitoring. We focus on an area with ongoing deforestation due to gold mining in the southern Peruvian Amazon (Madre de Dios region).

Seeing red is not always a bad thing: a look inside a hummingbird’s flower!

The tiniest birds on Earth are one of the most astonishing living beings with an incredibly fast metabolic rate: hummingbirds! They are specialized nectar feeding organisms inhabiting only the Americas, and where the hummingbird-pollinated flowers provide them with the tasty and sweet solution to fulfill their high energetic demands. These plants use hummingbirds as a reliable, and long-range pollinator, and are generally characterized as odorless, with long-tubular corolla, conspicuous coloration, while also producing high sucrose-content nectar. Some of the most common plants families are the colorful Heliconiaceae, Rubiaceae, Fabaceae, Bromeliaceae. But even though hummingbirds pollinate and feed on several plant species, there is one large commonality that exists among most of them: their visible orange-red corolla. But is it actually the flower’s color that attracts them?

Festive Coquette perching on a Verbena plant

White-necked Jacobin feeding on a Heliconia rostrata

Sparkling violetear  feeding on an orange-tubular corolla

In general, color is a very critical cue for animals, and is mostly associated with the gaining of rewards. Among birds, the distinctive and the flamboyant hummingbird is a good example because vision is one of their most acute senses that they rely on to find their food and also mates. Hummingbird’s great vision -even better than humans- allows them to see colors near ultraviolet light, which is the reason why conspicuous flowers are highly visible to them.

Contrary to what might be expected, it is not only the bright red coloration that influences hummingbirds’ choice but instead a combination of traits. Conspicuous flowers are the first requisite to advertise the nectar to hummingbirds, where the conspicuousness will depend on the background where the flower is exhibited. For instance, heliconias resemble a wild bouquet with red flowers bursting at the top, surrounded by large and wide green stalks. Perfect for capturing hummingbird’s attention!

Handmade hummingbird feeder at Los Amigos | Photo by Emily Middendorf

But what truly matters is what is inside that flower: the nectar. Research conducted in the laboratory suggested that higher sucrose concentration is more important than color or even other sugars (e.g. fructose, glucose) in determining hummingbird’s food choice. It is known that in tropical and temperate areas hummingbird-pollinated flowers have nectars with high concentration of sucrose. Thus, rather than discriminating due to color alone, hummingbirds learn how to associate colors and rewards, and once learned, they will go for the flower with the greatest reward – no matter coloration!

Hummingbird feeders are highly common outside of nature lodges or nature lovers’ homes. In fact, it’s easy to create your own hummingbird feeder to have outside of your house! Here’s how to make your own feeder using an empty water bottle (we find that Gatorade bottles are perfect feeders!) and red paint (or any color within the visible range!). Just remember that no matter the color you chose to paint the feeder, the most important thing is to ensure that you provide energetic and sweet nectar that can fulfill their voracious appetite.

Photo credit: Carlos Altomirano