Episode 7 – Why do bowerbirds hoard and steal blue stuff?

Male Satin Bowerbird (Ptilinorhynchus violaceus) tending to his bower.

Aleena and Janine respond to a listener request for an episode about their own scientific research. They’re happy to oblige! They kick off with Janine’s past research into satin bowerbirds and explain just why males collect, hoard, and steal so much random blue stuff! Meanwhile, Aleena discusses her own peculiar past habit of collecting local bus tickets, and Janine is trying to do a self-portrait – but not the standard kind (the existentialist kind, of course!).

What are bowerbirds?

Why do they collect blue stuff?

What did Janine’s research tell us?

What’s the latest in our understanding of bowerbird evolution?

We had thought that bower-building evolved once in a common ancestor and then diversified among the different species, but a 2020 comprehensive genetic analysis (250 gigabases of DNA data!) has shown that it is more likely that bower-building evolved two times independently. This is a very exciting finding for evolutionary biology nerds! It seems that the tropical rainforests, where these birds are found, have less predators than other habitats. So bowerbirds have more time on their… legs(?) to get building, which means these weird and wonderful behaviours are more likely to evolve and persist!

What brought out our inner squares?

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