Chickadees can smell! That is the news from a study out of Lehigh University, the first to document naturally hybridising songbirds’ preference for the scent of their own species.
Amber Rice, an evolutionary biologist at Lehigh, studies natural hybridisation when separate species come into contact and mate-to better understand how species originate and how existing species are maintained. The two species that make up the hybridised population she studies are the black-capped chickadee and its relative the Carolina chickadee.
Rice and Ph.D. student, Alex Van Huynh, set out to test the potential for scent to act as a mate choice cue, contributing to reproductive isolation between the black-capped and Carolina chickadees who live in the “hybrid zone” in the eastern Pennsylvania region where Lehigh is located. MORE
Header image: “The sense of smell has been very understudied in birds, particularly songbirds, because they frequently have such impressive plumage and song variation,” says Amber Rice, an evolutionary biologist at Lehigh University. “Some other recent work has documented that species of songbird can smell and prefer their species’ odors, but this is the first example in currently hybridizing species that we know of.” Credit: Lehigh University.