Climate Fact: Cheating Birds

According to a recent study, birds living in unstable climates are more likely to cheat on their significant others.  But avian cheaters have good intentions – by mating with multiple partners, female birds can improve their offspring’s ability to cope with variable future weather conditions.

Studies have shown that chicks born from cheating have higher survival rates, grow better feathers, build stronger immune systems and have more reproductive success than chicks born from long-term partners.  Scientists found this link between cheating birds and weather conditions by comparing the mating behaviors of more than 200 bird species to local weather records. They discovered that birds became more promiscuous in environments that exhibit larger and more volatile temperature swings each year.  Some research suggests that future temperatures will vary even more, and that’s bad news for loyal birds.

Photo courtesy of Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

(Sources: Botero, Carlos A. and Dustin R. Rubenstein, 2012. “Fluctuating Environments, Sexual Selection and the Evolution of Flexible Mate Choice in Birds.”  PLoS ONE, 7:1, e32311, (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032311); Diffenbaugh, Noah S. and Moetasim Ashfaq, 2010. “Intensification of hot extremes in the United States.”  Geophysical Research Letters, 37, L15701, (DOI: 10.1029/2010GL043888)

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