Biology Seminar | Leanne Grieves, PhD | McMaster University | Avian Behavioural, Chemical, and Microbial Ecology
NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of Biology; School of Earth, Environment & Society
Abstract: Chemical communication is the earliest form of communication. As such, it is taxonomically widespread. Organisms as diverse as microbes and mammals send, receive, and respond to chemical signals. However, it is commonly believed that birds possess a poor sense of smell and hence, that chemical communication is unimportant for them. In fact, all bird species investigated to date have a fully functional olfactory system, and birds use smell for everything from food location and predator avoidance to kin recognition. Preen oil secreted from the uropygial gland, located at the base of the tail in most bird species, is a waxy secretion composed of a complex chemical mixture that contributes to avian body odour. I and others have identified numerous factors that affect the chemical composition of preen oil and, presumably, avian body odour. In this talk, I will present behavioural experiments I conducted to test the ability of songbirds to use preen oil odour to discriminate between the sexes and among potential mates with different genotypes. I will also discuss mechanisms by which genotype may be communicated via odour cues. Next, I will describe my current research investigating the role of chemical cues in the social and reproductive behaviour of joint-nesting birds, including the potential role of symbiotic microbes as contributors to avian body odour. Finally, I will highlight some of my future research plans.