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1.  North American ornithology in transition 
Biology Letters  2013;9(1):20120876.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2012.0876
PMCID: PMC3565500  PMID: 23097461
conservation; ecology; evolution; ornithology; North American Ornithological Conference
2.  Lekking birds in a tropical forest forego sex for migration 
Biology Letters  2011;7(5):661-663.
Facultative, partially migratory animals provide a contemporary window into the evolution of migration, offering rare opportunities to examine the life-history trade-offs associated with migration. For the first time, to our knowledge, we describe the nature of these trade-offs, using a lek-breeding tropical bird, the white-ruffed manakin (Corapipo altera). Previous evidence indicated that weather drives post-breeding migration to lower elevations bringing condition-related benefits. Using elevation-sensitive stable isotope measurements and more than 1200 h of behavioural observations, we show that male manakins which migrate incur costs of diminished social status and matings with females the following breeding season. Because migratory tendency depends on inter-annual variation in weather, physical costs of displays and breeding prospects the following year, migratory decisions are subject to both natural and sexual selection, with the outcome of such decisions linked to changing climatic regimes.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2011.0115
PMCID: PMC3169044  PMID: 21471048
carry-over effects; evolution of migration; life-history trade-offs
3.  Storms drive altitudinal migration in a tropical bird 
Although migration is a widespread and taxonomically diverse behaviour, the ecological factors shaping migratory behaviour are poorly understood. Like other montane taxa, many birds migrate along elevational gradients in the tropics. Forty years ago, Alexander Skutch postulated that severe storms could drive birds to migrate downhill. Here, we articulate a novel mechanism that could link storms to mortality risks via reductions in foraging time and provide, to our knowledge, the first tests of this hypothesis in the White-ruffed Manakin (Corapipo altera), a small partially migratory frugivore breeding on the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica. As predicted, variation in rainfall was associated with plasma corticosterone levels, fat stores, plasma metabolites and haematocrit. By collecting data at high and low elevation sites simultaneously, we also found that high-elevation residents were more adversely affected by storms than low elevation migrants. These results, together with striking temporal capture patterns of altitudinal migrants relative to storms, provide, to our knowledge, the first evidence that weather-related risks incurred by species requiring high food intake rates can explain altitudinal migrations of tropical animals. These findings resolve conflicting evidence for and against food limitation being important in the evolution of this behaviour, and highlight how endogenous and exogenous processes influence life-history trade-offs made by individuals in the wild. Because seasonal storms are a defining characteristic of most tropical ecosystems and rainfall patterns will probably change in ensuing decades, these results have important implications for understanding the ecology, evolution and conservation of tropical animals.
doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0344
PMCID: PMC2894928  PMID: 20375047
allostasis; climate change; foraging; metabolism; partial migration; tropical forest
4.  Evolutionary Divergence in Brain Size between Migratory and Resident Birds 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9617.
Despite important recent progress in our understanding of brain evolution, controversy remains regarding the evolutionary forces that have driven its enormous diversification in size. Here, we report that in passerine birds, migratory species tend to have brains that are substantially smaller (relative to body size) than those of resident species, confirming and generalizing previous studies. Phylogenetic reconstructions based on Bayesian Markov chain methods suggest an evolutionary scenario in which some large brained tropical passerines that invaded more seasonal regions evolved migratory behavior and migration itself selected for smaller brain size. Selection for smaller brains in migratory birds may arise from the energetic and developmental costs associated with a highly mobile life cycle, a possibility that is supported by a path analysis. Nevertheless, an important fraction (over 68%) of the correlation between brain mass and migratory distance comes from a direct effect of migration on brain size, perhaps reflecting costs associated with cognitive functions that have become less necessary in migratory species. Overall, our results highlight the importance of retrospective analyses in identifying selective pressures that have shaped brain evolution, and indicate that when it comes to the brain, larger is not always better.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009617
PMCID: PMC2835749  PMID: 20224776

Results 1-4 (4)