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Why do bird wings differ? A new study reveals the reasons

  • A team of researchers recently published one of the most comprehensive studies on bird wings, in an attempt to uncover factors of their diversity.
  • The results indicate that the huge difference in wing shape and function is related to environmental and behavioral factors of birds.
  • By examining the wings of more than 45,000 birds out of 10,000 species of these organisms, the researchers found that those that live in higher latitude regions – far from the equator – are more capable of spreading and moving in larger areas.

The difference in shapes and environments:

  • According to a previous study by the American Museum of Natural History, there are more than 18,000 species of birds in the world spread in almost all environments on Earth from mountains, plains, and wet and dry areas.
  • However, the geographical distribution of birds is uneven, with some regions experiencing more rich biological diversity for birds than other regions, and scientists have noted that there is a significant difference in the way bird species spread in these regions and the geographical distance they cover.
  • For example, a polar tern bird is known for its long migratory journeys from the North Pole to the South Pole, while another bird of water chicken called “Atlantisia Rogers” that lives in the Tristan archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean only moves in an area that does not exceed a few kilometers Square.
  Therefore, studying the different shapes and lengths of wings can allow biologists to uncover the secret of the adaptation of different bird species to long journeys.
For this purpose, researchers from the University of Bristol and the Imperial College London conducted the first comprehensive study dealing with the ability to spread – the geographical distance the animal travels – over an entire class of animals – birds, and was published in the Nature Communication on May 18.

Geographical inclusion in sizes:

  • The team of researchers – which included 90 researchers led by Dr. Catherine Sheard of the College of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol – combed 64 museums of natural history, and performed accurate indexing of bird species while measuring their wings.
  • These measurements – notably the “manual wing index” that reflects the elongation of the wing – helped researchers find out how different wings adapt to the bird’s need to fly.
  • Based on the data obtained, the team members created a map of global changes in the shape of the wings, which showed a clear gradient in the average spreading ability in large areas of birds, ranging from low near the equator to high at upper latitudes.
  • The researchers attributed this gradient according to latitude to the main factors: migration and defense over the spheres of influence, two factors that are also linked to the change in temperature (seasonal).
  • The researchers also noted that birds living at low latitudes in a stable climate were characterized by low migration and high defense of their spheres of influence throughout the year, and their short wings adapted to a stable lifestyle, at a time when the wings of birds that mainly inhabited areas located in lines Top view with long haul flying longer.

Many benefits:

  • “This geographical pattern is truly surprising, and given the role, dispersal plays in evolutionary processes, there is reason to believe that the relationship between behavior, the environment, and propagation may constitute other aspects of biological diversity,” said Dr. Catherine Sheerd, lead author of the study.
  • Researchers expect this study and the database they created to help better predict species responses when fragmenting habitats (habitats) or having to change migration routes as a result of human factors.
  • It also helps to conserve the environment by identifying the species that need the most protection and that requires specific protection measures, such as maintaining bird stability areas with weak dispersion capacity.


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