Thesis subject

Causes and consequences of variation in breeding plumage ornaments of pied flycatchers

European pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) are small long-distance migratory birds that breed in Europe and winter in Africa. This small migrant is a model species to understand how climate change affects migratory birds and at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology study it has been monitored at the Hoge Veluwe National Park for more than 40 years.

Male pied flycatchers are known to present a relatively large variation in plumage characteristics, from brown to black mantle colour and white patches on forehead and wings of various sizes and shapes. Here we are looking for a motivated student willing to investigate this variation in ornaments with a particular focus on the UV reflectance of the white wing patch.

Since 2005 we have been collecting a large number of middle tertiary wing feathers (T8 in the photo below) that present a distinct white patch and could signal individual quality. You will be responsible to measure the white reflectance of our feather collection to assess how much this trait vary between individuals and across years in our population. Then, you will have access to our long-term individual dataset to investigate the causes and consequences of such variation. Our dataset includes measurements of other plumage characteristics (amount of blackness, front patch size and shape), as well as general phenological (arrival dates, breeding time) and fitness (probability of finding a female, number of chicks, fledgling success) measures.

This study will be a collaboration between Florian Muijres (EZO-WUR) and Barbara Tomotani (NIOO-KNAW), it does not involve fieldwork.

For more information, please contact Barbara Tomotani.

Some examples of questions that could be asked:

- How much variation exists within and between years in plumage ornamentation?

- What environmental factors explain variation in ornaments in our population?

- Do early and late arriving/breeding birds differ in their ornamentation?

- How ornamentation relates to fitness? 

Starting literature:

Hera, I. de la, Reed, T.E., Pulido, F., Visser, M.E., 2013. Feather mass and winter moult extent are heritable but not associated with fitness-related traits in a long-distance migratory bird. Evol Ecol 27, 1199–1216.

Järvistö, P.E., Calhim, S., Schuett, W., Sirkiä, P.M., Velmala, W., Laaksonen, T., 2016. Carry-over effects of conditions at the wintering grounds on breeding plumage signals in a migratory bird: roles of phenotypic plasticity and selection. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 29, 1569–1584.

Siitari, H., Huhta, E., 2002. Individual color variation and male quality in pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca): a role of ultraviolet reflectance. Behavioral Ecology 13, 737–741.

Sirkiä, P.M., Qvarnström, A., 2021. Adaptive coloration in pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca)—The devil is in the detail. Ecology and Evolution 11, 1501–1525.

Tomotani, B.M., Gienapp, P., de la Hera, I., Terpstra, M., Pulido, F., Visser, M.E., 2021. Integrating Causal and Evolutionary Analysis of Life-History Evolution: Arrival Date in a Long-Distant Migrant. Front. Ecol. Evol. 9.

Examiner: Prof. Dr. Ir. Johan L. van Leeuwen
Supervisors: Barbara Tomotani
Florian Muijres
Contact: Barbara Tomotani
Begin date: 01/07/2021 (variable)
End date: 01/10/2022 (variable)
Credits: 12-36 ECTS (thesis / internship)
For: MSc Biology / Animal Sciences
Requirements: Functional Zoology (EZO 30806) (for MSc thesis)
Used skills: Experimental design, bird ecology, functional morphology, statistics