Vikings routinely crossed the North Atlantic without a magnetic compass and left their mark on lands as far away as Greenland, Newfoundland and Baffin Island. Based on an eleventh-century dial fragment artefact, found at Uunartoq in Greenland, it is widely accepted that they sailed along chosen latitudes using primitive Sun compasses. Such instruments were tested on sea and proved to be efficient hand-held navigation tools, but the dimensions and incisions of the Uunartoq find are far from optimal in this role. On the basis of the sagas mentioning sunstones, incompatible hypotheses were formed for Viking solar navigation procedures and primitive skylight polarimetry with dichroic or birefringent crystals. We describe here a previously unconceived method of navigation based on the Uunartoq artefact functioning as a 'twilight board', which is a combination of a horizon board and a Sun compass optimized for use when the Sun is close to the horizon. We deduced an appropriate solar navigation procedure using a twilight board, a shadow-stick and birefringent crystals, which bring together earlier suggested methods in harmony and provide a true skylight compass function. This could have allowed Vikings to navigate around the clock, to use the artefact dial as a Sun compass during long parts of the day and to use skylight polarization patterns in the twilight period. In field tests, we found that true north could be appointed with such a medieval skylight compass with an error of about ±4° when the artificially occluded Sun had elevation angles between +10° and -8° relative to the horizon. Our interpretation allows us to assign exact dates to the gnomonic lines on the artefact and outlines the schedule of the merchant ships that sustained the Viking colony in Greenland a millennium ago.
In contact zones, genetic mixing of two taxa can be restricted by prezygotic (e.g. assortative mating) or postzygotic (lower fitness of hybrid offspring) barriers, or a combination of the two. A hybrid zone between two willow warbler subspecies (Phylloscopus trochilus trochilus, P. t. acredula) with distinctive migratory strategies occurs in central Sweden. These subspecies exhibit differences in migratory direction and distance, resulting in geographically distinct wintering areas in Africa. The subspecies may have diverged from a common refuge after the last ice age, and neutral genetic markers are homogeneous across their range. By contrast, several phenotypic traits and genetic markers of two chromosomal regions previously identified show steep clines across the divide. The evolutionary forces that maintain this migratory divide remain unknown. Here we use plumage colour, morphology, genetic markers and feather stable nitrogen-isotopes (? (15)N) to assess if assortative mating between migratory phenotypes could be acting as a possible mechanism for keeping the two forms genetically separate and maintaining the migratory divide. We colour-ringed a willow warbler breeding population in the central part of the hybrid zone and observed the breeding population to assess phenotypic and genotypic traits of social pairs.
Local adaptation is an important process contributing to population differentiation which can occur in continuous or isolated populations connected by various amounts of gene flow. The willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) is one of the most common songbirds in Fennoscandia. It has a continuous breeding distribution where it is found in all forested habitats from sea level to the tree line and therefore constitutes an ideal species for the study of locally adapted genes associated with environmental gradients. Previous studies in this species identified a genetic marker (AFLP-WW1) that showed a steep north-south cline in central Sweden with one allele associated with coastal lowland habitats and the other with mountainous habitats. It was further demonstrated that this marker is embedded in a highly differentiated chromosome region that spans several megabases. In the present study, we sampled 2,355 individuals at 128 sites across all of Fennoscandia to study the geographic and climatic variables associated with the allele frequency distributions of WW1. Our results demonstrate that 1) allele frequency patterns significantly differ between mountain and lowland populations, 2) these allele differences coincide with extreme temperature conditions and the short growing season in the mountains, and milder conditions in coastal areas, and 3) the northern-allele or "altitude variant" of WW1 occurs in willow warblers that occupy mountainous habitat regardless of subspecies. Finally these results suggest that climate may exert selection on the genomic region associated with these alleles and would allow us to develop testable predictions for the distribution of the genetic marker based on climate change scenarios.
The highly mobile wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) are adapted to navigate the extreme environment of the Southern Ocean and return to isolated islands to breed. Each year they cover several hundreds of thousands of kilometers during travels across the sea. Little is known about the dispersal flights and migration of young albatrosses. We tracked, by satellite telemetry, the departure dispersal of 13 juvenile wandering albatrosses from the Crozet Islands and compared them with tracks of 7 unrelated adults during the interbreeding season. We used the satellite tracks to identify different behavioural steps of the inherited migration program used by juvenile wandering albatrosses during their first solo-migration. Our results show that the juvenile wandering albatrosses from Crozet Islands moved to sex-specific foraging zones of the ocean using at departures selectively the wind. The results suggest that the inherited migration program used by the juvenile wandering albatrosses encode several distinct steps, based on inherited preferred departure routes, differences in migration distance between sexes, and selective use of winds. During long transportation flights the albatrosses were influenced by winds and both adult and juveniles followed approximate loxodrome (rhumbline) routes coinciding with the foraging zone and the specific latitudes of their destination areas. During the long segments of transportation flights across open seas the juveniles selected routes at more northerly latitudes than adults.
Circular orientation cages have been used for several decades to record the migratory orientation of passerine migrants, and have been central to the investigation of the functional characteristics of the biological compasses used for orientation. The use of these cages offers unique possibilities to study the migratory behaviour of songbirds, but suffers from statistical limitations in evaluating the directions of the activity recorded in the cages. The migratory activity has been reported to vary, including complex multimodal orientation of migratory passerines tested in orientation cages irrespective of species studied. The currently applied circular statistical methods fail to describe orientation responses differing from unimodal and axial distributions. We propose for the first time a modelling procedure enabling the analysis of multimodal distributions at either an individual or a group level. In this paper we compare the results of conventional methods and the recommended modelling approach. Migratory routes may be more complex than a simple migratory direction, and multimodal behaviour in migratory species at the individual and population levels can be advantageous. Individuals may select the expected migratory direction, but may also return to safer sites en route, i.e. sites already known, which provide food and/or shelter in reverse directions. In individual birds, several directions may be expressed in the same test hour. At the species level, multimodal orientation may give an opportunity to expand the range or may refer to differential migration route preferences in different populations of birds. A conflicting experimental situation may also result in a different preferential orientation. In this paper we suggest a statistical solution to deal with these types of variations in orientation preference.
Animal migration requires adaptations in morphological, physiological and behavioural traits. Several of these traits have been shown to possess a strong heritable component in birds, but little is known about their genetic architecture. Here we used 454 sequencing of brain-derived transcriptomes from two differentially migrating subspecies of the willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus to detect genes potentially underlying traits associated with migration.
As with mosquitoes, female tabanid flies search for mammalian hosts by visual and olfactory cues, because they require a blood meal before being able to produce and lay eggs. Polarotactic tabanid flies find striped or spotted patterns with intensity and/or polarisation modulation visually less attractive than homogeneous white, brown or black targets. Thus, this reduced optical attractiveness to tabanids can be one of the functions of striped or spotty coat patterns in ungulates. Ungulates emit CO2 via their breath, while ammonia originates from their decaying urine. As host-seeking female tabanids are strongly attracted to CO2 and ammonia, the question arises whether the poor visual attractiveness of stripes and spots to tabanids is or is not overcome by olfactory attractiveness. To answer this question we performed two field experiments in which the attractiveness to tabanid flies of homogeneous white, black and black-and-white striped three-dimensional targets (spheres and cylinders) and horse models provided with CO2 and ammonia was studied. Since tabanids are positively polarotactic, i.e. attracted to strongly and linearly polarised light, we measured the reflection-polarisation patterns of the test surfaces and demonstrated that these patterns were practically the same as those of real horses and zebras. We show here that striped targets are significantly less attractive to host-seeking female tabanids than homogeneous white or black targets, even when they emit tabanid-luring CO2 and ammonia. Although CO2 and ammonia increased the number of attracted tabanids, these chemicals did not overcome the weak visual attractiveness of stripes to host-seeking female tabanids. This result demonstrates the visual protection of striped coat patterns against attacks from blood-sucking dipterans, such as horseflies, known to transmit lethal diseases to ungulates.
We measured the air speeds of 31 bird species, for which we had body mass and wing measurements, migrating along the east coast of Sweden in autumn, using a Vectronix Vector 21 ornithodolite and a Gill WindSonic anemometer. We expected each species average air speed to exceed its calculated minimum-power speed (Vmp), and to fall below its maximum-range speed (Vmr), but found some exceptions to both limits. To resolve these discrepancies, we first reduced the assumed induced power factor for all species from 1.2 to 0.9, attributing this to splayed and up-turned primary feathers, and then assigned body drag coefficients for different species down to 0.060 for small waders, and up to 0.12 for the mute swan, in the Reynolds number range 25 000-250 000. These results will be used to amend the default values in existing software that estimates fuel consumption in migration, energy heights on arrival and other aspects of flight performance, using classical aeronautical theory. The body drag coefficients are central to range calculations. Although they cannot be measured on dead bird bodies, they could be checked against wind tunnel measurements on living birds, using existing methods.
Birds have remained the dominant model for studying the mechanisms of animal navigation for decades, with much of what has been discovered coming from laboratory studies or model systems. The miniaturisation of tracking technology in recent years now promises opportunities for studying navigation during migration itself (migratory navigation) on an unprecedented scale. Even if migration tracking studies are principally being designed for other purposes, we argue that attention to salient environmental variables during the design or analysis of a study may enable a host of navigational questions to be addressed, greatly enriching the field. We explore candidate variables in the form of a series of contrasts (e.g. land vs ocean or night vs day migration), which may vary naturally between migratory species, populations or even within the life span of a migrating individual. We discuss how these contrasts might help address questions of sensory mechanisms, spatiotemporal representational strategies and adaptive variation in navigational ability. We suggest that this comparative approach may help enrich our knowledge about the natural history of migratory navigation in birds.
The knowledge on the optics of fogbows is scarce, and their polarization characteristics have never been measured to our knowledge. To fill this gap we measured the polarization features of 16 fogbows during the Beringia 2005 Arctic polar research expedition by imaging polarimetry in the red, green and blue spectral ranges. We present here the first polarization patterns of the fogbow. In the patterns of the degree of linear polarization p, fogbows and their supernumerary bows are best visible in the red spectral range due to the least dilution of fogbow light by light scattered in air. In the patterns of the angle of polarization ? fogbows are practically not discernible because their ?-pattern is the same as that of the sky: the direction of polarization is perpendicular to the plane of scattering and is parallel to the arc of the bow, independently of the wavelength. Fogbows and their supernumeraries were best seen in the patterns of the polarized radiance. In these patterns the angular distance ? between the peaks of the primary and the first supernumerary and the angular width ? of the primary bow were determined along different radii from the center of the bow. ? ranged between 6.08° and 13.41°, while ? changed from 5.25° to 19.47°. Certain fogbows were relatively homogeneous, meaning small variations of ? and ? along their bows. Other fogbows were heterogeneous, possessing quite variable ?- and ?-values along their bows. This variability could be a consequence of the characteristics of the high Arctic with open waters within the ice shield resulting in the spatiotemporal change of the droplet size within the fog.
We present optical methods at a wide range of wavelengths for remote classification of birds. The proposed methods include eye-safe fluorescence and depolarization lidar techniques, passive scattering spectroscopy, and infrared (IR) spectroscopy. In this paper we refine our previously presented method of remotely classifying birds with the help of laser-induced ?-keratin fluorescence. Phenomena of excitation quenching are studied in the laboratory and are theoretically discussed in detail. It is shown how the ordered microstructures in bird feathers induce structural "colors" in the IR region with wavelengths of around 3-6 ?m. We show that transmittance in this region depends on the angle of incidence of the transmitted light in a species-specific way and that the transmittance exhibits a close correlation to the spatial periodicity in the arrangement of the feather barbules. We present a method by which the microstructure of feathers can be monitored in a remote fashion by utilization of thermal radiation and the wing beating of the bird.
Across a range of organisms, related species or even populations of the same species exhibit strikingly different scales and patterns of movement. A significant proportion of the phenotypic variance in migratory traits is genetic, but the genes involved in shaping these phenotypes are still unknown. Although recent achievements in genomics will evolve migratory genetics research from a phenotypic to a molecular approach, fully sequenced and annotated genomes of migratory species are still lacking. Consequently, many of the genes involved in migration are unavailable as candidates. Migration is central to the life-history adaptations of many animals. Here, we review current understanding of the genetic architecture of migratory traits and discuss the significant implications this will have for other areas of biology, including population responses to climate change, speciation and conservation management.
Between AD 900 and AD 1200 Vikings, being able to navigate skillfully across the open sea, were the dominant seafarers of the North Atlantic. When the Sun was shining, geographical north could be determined with a special sundial. However, how the Vikings could have navigated in cloudy or foggy situations, when the Suns disc was unusable, is still not fully known. A hypothesis was formulated in 1967, which suggested that under foggy or cloudy conditions, Vikings might have been able to determine the azimuth direction of the Sun with the help of skylight polarization, just like some insects. This hypothesis has been widely accepted and is regularly cited by researchers, even though an experimental basis, so far, has not been forthcoming. According to this theory, the Vikings could have determined the direction of the skylight polarization with the help of an enigmatic birefringent crystal, functioning as a linearly polarizing filter. Such a crystal is referred to as sunstone in one of the Vikings sagas, but its exact nature is unknown. Although accepted by many, the hypothesis of polarimetric navigation by Vikings also has numerous sceptics. In this paper, we summarize the results of our own celestial polarization measurements and psychophysical laboratory experiments, in which we studied the atmospheric optical prerequisites of possible sky-polarimetric navigation in Tunisia, Finland, Hungary and the high Arctic.
We present a method for remote classification of birds based on eye-safe fluorescence lidar techniques. Mechanisms of quenching are discussed. Plumage reflectance is related to plumage fluorescence. Laboratory measurements on reflectance and fluorescence are presented, as well as test-range measurements. Also we present examples of birds in-flight lidar returns. The methods are suitable for studies of night migrating species and high-altitude classification with implications for the detailed understanding of bird migration and global virus spread.
Arctic waders are well known for their impressive long-distance migrations between their high northerly breeding grounds and wintering areas in the Southern hemisphere. Performing such long migrations requires precise orientation mechanisms. We conducted orientation cage experiments with juvenile sharp-tailed sandpipers (Calidris acuminata) to investigate what cues they rely on when departing from Alaska on their long autumn migration flights across the Pacific Ocean to Australasia, and which possible migration routes they could use. Experiments were performed under natural clear skies, total overcast conditions and in manipulated magnetic fields at a staging site in Alaska. Under clear skies the juvenile sharp-tailed sandpipers oriented towards SSE, which coincides well with reported sun compass directions from their breeding grounds in Siberia towards Alaska and could reflect their true migratory direction towards Australasia assuming that they change direction towards SW somewhere along the route. Under overcast skies the sandpipers showed a mean direction towards SW which would lead them to Australasia, if they followed a sun compass route. However, because of unfavourable weather conditions (headwinds) associated with overcast conditions, these south-westerly directions could also reflect local movements. The juvenile sharp-tailed sandpipers responded clearly to the manipulated magnetic field under overcast skies, suggesting the use of a magnetic compass for selecting their courses.
Billions of animals migrate each year. To successfully reach their destination, migrants must have evolved an appropriate genetic program and suitable developmental, morphological, physiological, biomechanical, behavioral, and life-history traits. Moreover, they must interact successfully with biotic and abiotic factors in their environment. Migration therefore provides an excellent model system in which to address several of the "grand challenges" in organismal biology. Previous research on migration, however, has often focused on a single aspect of the phenomenon, largely due to methodological, geographical, or financial constraints. Integrative migration biology asks big questions such as how, when, where, and why animals migrate, which can be answered by examining the process from multiple ecological and evolutionary perspectives, incorporating multifaceted knowledge from various other scientific disciplines, and using new technologies and modeling approaches, all within the context of an annual cycle. Adopting an integrative research strategy will provide a better understanding of the interactions between biological levels of organization, of what role migrants play in disease transmission, and of how to conserve migrants and the habitats upon which they depend.
White horses frequently suffer from malign skin cancer and visual deficiencies owing to their high sensitivity to the ultraviolet solar radiation. Furthermore, in the wild, white horses suffer a larger predation risk than dark individuals because they can more easily be detected. In spite of their greater vulnerability, white horses have been highly appreciated for centuries owing to their natural rarity. Here, we show that blood-sucking tabanid flies, known to transmit disease agents to mammals, are less attracted to white than dark horses. We also demonstrate that tabanids use reflected polarized light from the coat as a signal to find a host. The attraction of tabanids to mainly black and brown fur coats is explained by positive polarotaxis. As the hosts colour determines its attractiveness to tabanids, this parameter has a strong influence on the parasite load of the host. Although we have studied only the tabanid-horse interaction, our results can probably be extrapolated to other host animals of polarotactic tabanids, as the reflection-polarization characteristics of the hosts body surface are physically the same, and thus not species-dependent.
The paddyfield warbler, Acrocephalus agricola, has extended its breeding range from Central Asia to the western Black Sea coast. The Balkan population offers a unique chance to test the effect of breeding range expansion on the genetically programmed migratory direction. We studied 21 paddyfield warblers at Durankulak Lake, NE Bulgaria, by recording their autumn migratory orientation in circular orientation cages. Our data show that the preferred migratory orientation is directed along a NE-SW axis. Paddyfield warblers seem to avoid direct crossing of the Black Sea by following the western coast. The mean bearing was parallel to the nearest coastline and corresponds to the direction of the historical breeding range expansion of the species. In our experiment many individuals showed south-western orientation in autumn, a course which would potentially lead the birds to exploratory movements outside the current breeding range. An axial orientation response has been often shown in circular cage tests, and can be due to factors such as coastal orientation or reverse orientation triggered by the physiological condition of some individuals. However, it might also be one of the driving mechanisms for range expansion. Hence, we can expect the future expansion of Balkan paddyfield warblers to continue towards south-west.
The circular distribution of the willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus around the Baltic Sea shares many features with the classic examples of ring species; however, the system is much younger. It has previously been shown that a secondary contact zone is located in central Scandinavia, where there are narrow clines for several morphological traits coincident with a migratory divide. Here we analyse multiple traits and genes from > 1700 males captured on breeding territories at 77 sites spread around the Baltic Sea to test the following hypothesis. If the secondary contact zone in Scandinavia is a result of divergence in two allopatric refuge populations during the last glaciation, we expect to find a similar secondary contact zone somewhere else around the circular distribution. Our results show that the trait clines were wider and displaced from each other along the eastern side of the Baltic Sea. Analyses of 12 microsatellite loci confirmed that the genome is very similar between the terminal forms (F(ST) = 0). Two AFLP-derived markers filtered out from a genomic scan instead appear to be maintained by selection. These markers exhibited steep clines at the secondary contact zone in Scandinavia, but as for the phenotypic traits, had vastly different cline centres east of the Baltic Sea. The trait clines along the ring distribution outside the Scandinavian secondary contact zone thus seem to have been shaped by independent action of selection or drift during the process of postglacial colonization.
Topography and historical range expansion has formed a so-called migratory divide between two subspecies of willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) in central Scandinavia. The autumn migratory directions of individuals assigned molecularly to both subspecies and possible hybrids were recorded using orientation cage experiments in southwest and southeast Sweden. We found pronounced differences in willow warblers orientation in respect to genotype. The mean directions registered in the control experiments were in accordance with the ringing recoveries and analyses of stable isotopes for Scandinavian willow warblers. With the same individuals we performed displacement experiments between both sites. They resulted in non-significant orientation, which could be explained by the intermediate distance of the displacement or reactions to housing, transportation and location. On a separate set of birds we tested whether stress following transportation could explain the disorientation and found that orientation before and after transport was unchanged. Experimental studies of effects of intermediate displacements across longitudes and studies of orientation of hybrid individuals in the zones of migratory divides are crucial for understanding the mechanisms underlying orientation behaviour. Our work further stresses the importance of knowing the migration genotype of a particular bird under study, in order to correctly evaluate expected migration routes.
During blood-sucking, female members of the family Tabanidae transmit pathogens of serious diseases and annoy their host animals so strongly that they cannot graze, thus the health of the hosts is drastically reduced. Consequently, a tabanid-resistant coat with appropriate brightness, colour and pattern is advantageous for the host. Spotty coats are widespread among mammals, especially in cattle (Bos primigenius). In field experiments we studied the influence of the size and number of spots on the attractiveness of test surfaces to tabanids that are attracted to linearly polarized light. We measured the reflection-polarization characteristics of living cattle, spotty cattle coats and the used test surfaces. We show here that the smaller and the more numerous the spots, the less attractive the target (host) is to tabanids. We demonstrate that the attractiveness of spotty patterns to tabanids is also reduced if the target exhibits spottiness only in the angle of polarization pattern, while being homogeneous grey with a constant high degree of polarization. Tabanid flies respond strongly to linearly polarized light, and we show that bright and dark parts of cattle coats reflect light with different degrees and angles of polarization that in combination with dark spots on a bright coat surface disrupt the attractiveness to tabanids. This could be one of the possible evolutionary benefits that explains why spotty coat patterns are so widespread in mammals, especially in ungulates, many species of which are tabanid hosts.
The tracking of small avian migrants has only recently become possible by the use of small light-level geolocators, allowing the reconstruction of whole migration routes, as well as timing and speed of migration and identification of wintering areas. Such information is crucial for evaluating theories about migration strategies and pinpointing critical areas for migrants of potential conservation value. Here we report data about migration in the common swift, a highly aerial and long-distance migrating species for which only limited information based on ringing recoveries about migration routes and wintering areas is available. Six individuals were successfully tracked throughout a complete migration cycle from Sweden to Africa and back. The autumn migration followed a similar route in all individuals, with an initial southward movement through Europe followed by a more southwest-bound course through Western Sahara to Sub-Saharan stopovers, before a south-eastward approach to the final wintering areas in the Congo basin. After approximately six months at wintering sites, which shifted in three of the individuals, spring migration commenced in late April towards a restricted stopover area in West Africa in all but one individual that migrated directly towards north from the wintering area. The first part of spring migration involved a crossing of the Gulf of Guinea in those individuals that visited West Africa. Spring migration was generally wind assisted within Africa, while through Europe variable or head winds were encountered. The average detour at about 50% could be explained by the existence of key feeding sites and wind patterns. The common swift adopts a mixed fly-and-forage strategy, facilitated by its favourable aerodynamic design allowing for efficient use of fuel. This strategy allowed swifts to reach average migration speeds well above 300 km/day in spring, which is higher than possible for similar sized passerines. This study demonstrates that new technology may drastically change our views about migration routes and strategies in small birds, as well as showing the unexpected use of very limited geographical areas during migration that may have important consequences for conservation strategies for migrants.
The characteristic striped appearance of zebras has provoked much speculation about its function and why the pattern has evolved, but experimental evidence is scarce. Here, we demonstrate that a zebra-striped horse model attracts far fewer horseflies (tabanids) than either homogeneous black, brown, grey or white equivalents. Such biting flies are prevalent across Africa and have considerable fitness impact on potential mammalian hosts. Besides brightness, one of the likely mechanisms underlying this protection is the polarization of reflected light from the host animal. We show that the attractiveness of striped patterns to tabanids is also reduced if only polarization modulations (parallel stripes with alternating orthogonal directions of polarization) occur in horizontal or vertical homogeneous grey surfaces. Tabanids have been shown to respond strongly to linearly polarized light, and we demonstrate here that the light and dark stripes of a zebras coat reflect very different polarizations of light in a way that disrupts the attractiveness to tabanids. We show that the attractiveness to tabanids decreases with decreasing stripe width, and that stripes below a certain size are effective in not attracting tabanids. Further, we demonstrate that the stripe widths of zebra coats fall in a range where the striped pattern is most disruptive to tabanids. The striped coat patterns of several other large mammals may also function in reducing exposure to tabanids by similar mechanisms of differential brightness and polarization of reflected light. This work provides an experimentally supported explanation for the underlying mechanism leading to the selective advantage of a black-and-white striped coat pattern.
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