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Kalvin Foo Department of Biology The College of New Jersey Ewing, NJ 08628 Foo2@tcnj.edu
they create more drag than if the bird had a shorter tail. the bird is reliant on its tail. brake. 1995). but in order to control for speed. Most tail morphologies are primarily influenced by aerodynamic considerations of the species to optimally serve flight. A positive correlation was found between primary and tail feathers (N=25.75. While the focus of many studies regarding airborne travel is the role of the wing and its feathers.ABSTRACT Flight is a function primarily powered by a bird’s wings. 1997). r= . and speed control. reducing the birds lift to drag ratio (Thomas & Balmford.05) that suggested tail feathers being a limiting factor for primary feather growth (m=. braking. tail usage is optimized at slower speeds. Studies have shown that. With respect to this.86). the tail and its feathers play a significant role in bird flight. As such. as the stability and lift it produces reduce the power necessary at for slow flight (Thomas. 1997). . despite the small amount of lift that tails do contribute during flight. This study utilized a sample of American Robins (Turdis Migratorius) to compare the lengths of tail feathers to primary feathers in conjunction to a longitudinal study of tail feather lengths in order to ascertain growth factors. Selective pressures thus dictate the bird’s tail shape in order to maintain function without creating too much drag. INTRODUCTION From their evolutionary origin as flightless dinosaurs. The inner and outer wings of birds are known for creating lift and thrust. p < . For flight-capable birds. and steer. with the exception of species where sexual selection chooses for aerodynamically unfavorable tails (Thomas. which can be modified by changing the angle of attack. respectively. flight-capable birds have evolved to have optimal physiologies to enhance their survivability and efficiency in the air. No ecological stressors were able to be determined from the longitudinal study that would directionally select for tail sizes. their tails must then work in conjunction with the lift and drag forces already generated by their wings in order to help maneuverability in terms of steering.
Chi. and were recorded by previously issued identification numbers. Because great influence in prior research focuses on the negative effects of the tail. Butler. Specimens ranged in age from 1878 to 2010. and Hack (1991) suggesting that morphological variances in feather size in a population stem from varied conditions during childhood. Measurements were performed with calipers capable of measuring accurately to a tenth of a millimeter.morphological data from a significant sample size comparing the bird’s outer wing. as need for more maneuverability or greater speed would correspond with increased or decreased tail lengths. This is based off of a theory presented by Price. Longitudinal data over time could give implications towards presence of selective pressures over time in the area. Pavelka. as viewed from a ventral view. a year-round residential species to the area where the study was performed. Presence of mounting or dissipating ecological pressure would show in tail lengths. should show that a positive correlation between primary and tail feather lengths. METHOD Twenty-five preserved American Robins (Turdis migratorius) collected from general South Jersey locations were temporarily acquired from Princeton University with assistance of Dr. Correlation between the two feathers should give insight into the impact of their relationship on bird flight. as determined from the tail feathers. to its tail length. this study was performed hypothesizing that tail feathers in amongst a species will be selected to be shorter. Primary feathers were measured on the left wing. as determined from the primary feathers. L. from the most anterior point of bend (wrist) to the furthest posterior point of . The study made use of American Robins (Turdis migratorius). Southern New Jersey.
7 mm (N=25. on the same side of the measured wing. this implicates that there were no specific growing or declining selective pressures for tail feather lengths. and the calculated correlation line was found to have a slope value of 0.05. as prior collected data on the same specimen was obscured during second and third measurements. Experimenter bias was removed via blind data collection means. The two variables correlated at r= 0. V= 2. Tail feathers were measured from the point at the end of the specimen’s vent down the tip of the left tail feather. Fig 2).1 mm. 1). Deforestation studies in southern New . as determined from the means and standard deviations from three measurements of each specimen Statistical analysis was conducted via Statistica. RESULTS Primary feather length was found to average 119. 7.6%) and the average tail feather was 81. DISCUSSION Significant ecological implications could not be drawn from a longitudinal correlation analysis.05. there are two outliers in tail feather length from the general range of lengths from 74. Primary feathers ranged from 105. using the basic correlation analysis utility.2%).86. ver. each with high coefficients of variation (V > 9.5 mm (Fig.8 mm to 87. Statistical analysis determined no correlation between feather lengths and time (p> 0. V= 6. Positive correlation was determined between primary feather and tail feather lengths (p < 0. However. as year distribution from samples was highly modal and was not conducive to finding a statistically significant correlation.2%). Fig.9 mm to 129. 2) Notably. Measurement repeatability was validated by finding a mean coefficient of variation (V).7 mm (N= 25.75.the primary projections.
the wide distribution in different tail feather lengths per year (Fig. potentially supporting that primary feather length may be contingent on limits of tail size. for at a basic level larger individuals should have longer feathers. as too large or too small a feature will be inefficient and unfavorable. individuals are still presented with differing conditions that are affecting tail feather formation. . a resident species such as Turdis migratorius may have sufficient maneuverability ability to survive unimpeded by changes in habitat structure. In a species. Conversely.Jersey have shown that the majority species affected are neo-tropical migratory birds. This data suggests that longer primary feathers are able to compensate for the drag produced by a longer tail. as wings too large may produce forces too great to be efficiently managed by a limited tail size. From this. it could also be seen as a need for a higher rate of tail growth to compensate for increased primary feather length. On the other hand. As there was a significant correlation found (Fig. and that a longer tail may be necessary to steer and brake against the greater forces from the wings. it can be drawn that although no directional selection is occurring over time. 1991). 2). From this. a point of note was the slope value of the best fit line (m=.decreasing their survivability odds (Rich. it implies that relative to increase of tail length feathers. This supported by the wide variety of habitats American Robins have been found in. 1) childhood conditions of the sample specimens imply highly varied childhood conditions (Price et. as reported by the Sibley Guide to Birds. the morphological adherence to this correlation occurs within boundaries. Because the slope is less than 1. Data showed that tail feathers had a smaller range of sizes. Dobkin. al.86). primary wing feathers increase less. & Niles 1994). Positive correlation between tail feathers and primary feather length was found as expected.
This study focused on Turdis migratorius in order to focus on variations within a singular species as per environmental fluxes instead of differences between species. . a study conducted across a family of species may give further insight into genetic and evolutionary bases behind the flight relationship between birds’ tails and outer wings. However.
Rich. Defining forest fragmentation by corridor width: The influence of narrow forest-dividing corridors on forest-nesting birds in Southern New Jersey.. On the tails of birds. Conservation Biology 8:1109-1121. How natural selection shapes birds’ tails.. Evolution 45: 518-533. Dobkin. 1997.L. A. M.LITERATURE CITED Price. Thomas. D.. A. 1991. E. Thomas. 1994. Bioscience 47:215-225. 1995. Balmford. Niles. A. A. Chi.. The American Naturalist 6:848-868. T. Hack.. L. Population and developmental variation in the feather tip.. M.L. Pavelka. .
Correlation of Tail Feather Lengths and Year.94 92 90 88 Tail Feather Length (mm) 86 84 82 80 78 76 74 72 70 68 1860 1880 1900 1920 1940 Year 1960 1980 2000 2020 Figure 1. Tail feather lengths of Turdis migratorius were plotted with respect to year.92) . Correlation failed the 95% confidence interval (p= 0.
00).132 130 128 126 Primary Feather Length (mm) 124 122 120 118 116 114 112 110 108 106 104 68 70 72 74 76 78 80 82 84 86 88 90 92 94 Tail Feather Length (mm) Figure 2. . Tail feather and primary feather lengths of Turdis migratorius were correlated to find a positive correlation (p =0.75 and line slope m= 0. Correlation of Tail Feather and Primary Feather Lengths. with r= .86.
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