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We study animal behaviour, ecology and evolution, focusing on birds as research organisms.

Our fields of interest cover a wide range of topics including social, sexual and parental behaviour and adaptation to environmental changes such as habitat urbanization and climate change.

 

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From our latest research:

Effects of capture and video-recording on the behavior and breeding success of Great Tits in urban and forest habitats
Gábor Seress, Ernő Vincze, Ivett Pipoly, Tamás Hammer, Sándor Papp, Bálint Preiszner, Veronika Bókony & András Liker. Journal of Field Ornithology, DOI:10.1111/jofo.12205

We studied the effects of both capturing, weighing and measuring, and taking a blood sample, and the presence of video-cameras on the behavior of male and female Great Tits breeding in urban and forest habitats. Using a 2 x 2 block design, we compared the behavior and breeding success of parents that either were or were not captured on their nests a few days before behavioral observations, and of parents that either were or were not habituated to the presence of a concealed video-recorder mounted on nest boxes. We found no significant effects of habituation to the camera on bird behavior, but males captured in their nest boxes were more vigilant and hesitated longer before entering nest boxes, and also had slightly lower provisioning rates than males that had not been captured. Captured females also tended to be more vigilant than non-captured females, but their provisioning rates were not affected. In males, capturing also influenced the behavior of their non-captured mates. We found no difference in the effects of capture in urban and forest habitats, and our treatments also had no effect on the mass, size, and survival of nestlings until fledging. Our results suggest that, for Great Tits, being captured results in sex-dependent behavioral effects that can last for at least several days.

Does urbanization affect predation of bird nests? A meta-analysis
Ernő Vincze, Gábor Seress, Malgorzata Lagisz, Shinichi Nakagawa, Niels J. Dingemanse &  Philipp Sprau. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2017.00029

Photo: © Jack Jeffrey Photography

Photo: © Jack Jeffrey Photography

Urbanization can affect interspecific interactions such as predation on bird nests. Using a formal meta-analytical approach, we carried out a systematic literature review to test whether predation on natural and artificial bird nests increased or decreased with habitat urbanization. We found that the effect was highly heterogeneous among studies, due to contrasting results between studies that used artificial nests and those that used natural nests. For artificial nests, survival rate tended to decrease with increasing urbanization, whereas for natural nests, survival was higher in more urbanized habitats. This discrepancy suggests that the direction of the relationship between urbanization and nest predation is likely to depend on the methodology of the study.


Innovative females are more promiscuous in great tits (Parus major)
Veronika Bókony, Ivett Pipoly, Krisztián Szabó, Bálint Preiszner, Ernő Vincze, Sándor Papp, Gábor Seress, Tamás Hammer  & András Liker. Behavioral Ecology, DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arx001, 2017

Photo: Csenge Sinkovics

We found that innovative great tit females are prone to cuckold their mates. Innovative problem solving can be important to animals for survival and reproduction in nature, yet we found no evidence that females mated to males with poor problem-solving performance compensate for poor male quality by obtaining superior genes for their offspring from other males via cuckoldry. Instead, females’ infidelity increased with their own innovativeness.


Status signalling in male but not in female Eurasian Tree Sparrows Passer montanus
F Mónus, A Liker, Z Pénzes, Z Barta. Ibis 159: 180-192, 2017


Problem-solving performance and reproductive success of great tits in urban and forest habitats
B Preiszner, S Papp, I Pipoly, G Seress, E Vincze, A Liker, V Bókony.
Animal Cognition, 20: 53–63, 2017

Photo: Bálint Preiszner

Photo: Bálint Preiszner

Success in problem solving, a form of innovativeness, can help animals exploit their environments, and recent research suggests that it may correlate with reproductive success. Innovativeness may have a greater positive effect on fitness in more urbanized habitats. We tested this idea in great tits by measuring their problem-solving performance in two tasks. Urban pairs were significantly faster problem-solvers in both tasks. In one of the tasks positive fitness consequences were found, though irrespectively of urbanization. Neophobia, sensitivity to human disturbance, and risk taking in the presence of a predator did not explain the relationships of problem-solving performance either with habitat type or with reproductive success. The reproductive benefit of innovativeness in great tits is similar in urban and natural habitats, implying that problem-solving skills may be enhanced in urban populations by some other benefits or reduced costs.


Habituation to human disturbance is faster in urban than rural house sparrows
Ernő Vincze, Sándor Papp, Bálint Preiszner, Gábor Seress, Veronika Bókony & András Liker. Behavioral Ecology 27: 1304-1313, 2016

Urban house sparrows flee from humans from shorter distances. Drawing: Ernő Vincze

Urban house sparrows flee from humans from shorter distances. Drawing: Ernő Vincze

Urban birds need to reduce their fear from humans to tolerate their presence. We show that urban house sparrows in the field have shorter flight initiation distances from humans than rural ones, but in captivity they initially show similar fear from humans. However, urban sparrows show faster habituation, i.e. decrease their fear response to repeated human disturbance faster. This difference may play a role in why certain birds exploit urban habitats better than others.


The evolution of parental cooperation in birds.
Vladimír Remeš, Robert P. Freckleton, Jácint Tökölyi, András Liker & Tamás Székely. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 112: 13603–13608, 2015

Phylogenetic distribution of parental cooperation in birds included in this study. Figure shows parental cooperation (tall black bars refer to high cooperation) and phylogenetic reconstruction along branches.

Phylogenetic distribution of parental cooperation in birds included in this study. Figure shows parental cooperation (tall black bars refer to high cooperation) and phylogenetic
reconstruction along branches.

Parents in many animal species care for their offspring. In some species males care more, in other species females care more, whereas in still other species the contribution of the sexes is equal. Using the most comprehensive analyses of parental care to date, here we show that parents cooperate more when sexual selection is not intense and the adult sex ratio of males to females is not strongly skewed. However, the degree of parental cooperation is unrelated to harshness and predictability of the ambient environment during the breeding season. These results suggest that several parental strategies may co-exist in a given set of ambient environment.


The genetic sex-determination system predicts adult sex ratios in tetrapods.
Ivett Pipoly, Veronika Bókony, Mark Kirkpatrick, Paul F. Donald, Tamás Székely & András Liker. Nature 527,91–94, 2015

he European green lizard (Lacerta viridis) has WZ sex chromosomes, like some other reptiles, some amphibians and all birds (photo: Liker A.)

The European green lizard (Lacerta viridis) has WZ sex chromosomes, like some other reptiles, some amphibians and all birds (photo: Liker A.)

Recent theoretical and empirical work shows that adult sex ratio (ASR, proportion of males in the population) has a major influence on pair bonds, mating systems and parental care, although the causes of ASR variation have remained obscure. Here we show for the first time that ASR is predicted by the type of genetic sex-determination system in amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals: the heterogametic sex is underrepresented in the population. Using novel population-genetic models, we also explore various genetic mechanisms that can mediate the effects of sex-determination systems on ASR.


Distribution of sex bias in pre-hatching and post-hatching care in birds (-1: female only care, 0: equal male and female care, 1: male only care).

Distribution of sex bias in pre-hatching and post-hatching care in birds (-1: female only care, 0: equal male and female care, 1: male only care).

Sex differences in parental care: Gametic investment, sexual selection, and social environment.
András Liker, Robert P. Freckleton, Vladimir Remeš &Tamás Székely. Evolution 69: 2862-2875, 2015

Using detailed behavioural data of nearly 800 birds, we confirm theoretical models proposing that parental sex roles are predicted by sexual selection and the social environment, but are unrelated to gametic investment of the sexes.


Using the BirdTree.org website to obtain robust phylogenies for avian comparative studies: A primer.
Rubolini, D., Liker, A., Garamszegi, L.Z., Møller, A.P. & Saino, N. Current Zoology 61: 959-965, 2015

BirdTree

A BirdTree.

Comparative studies require accounting for shared evolutionary history. The online publication of the phylogeny of extant bird species (www.birdtree.org) now allows biologists to rapidly obtain phylogenetic trees for any set of species to be incorporated in comparative analyses. We discuss methods to use BirdTree tree sets for comparative studies, either by building a consensus tree that can be incorporated into standard comparative analyses, or by using tree sets to account for the effect of phylogenetic uncertainty.


Does innovation success influence social interactions? An experimental test in house sparrows.
Preiszner, B., Papp, S., Vincze, E., Bókony, V. & Liker, A., Ethology 121: 661–673, 2015.

Large and bright birds

Larger and more innovative birds get more attacks. drawing: Ernő Vincze

Individuals may benefit from the presence of an innovative group-mate because new resources made available by innovators can be exploited. In this study we conducted an experiment to investigate whether individuals behave differently towards their innovative and non-innovative flock-mates in the house sparrow. Our experimental results suggest that some common social interactions are not influenced by the apparent problem-solving ability of the group-mates, however birds may use subtle cues to to assess the problem-solving ability of their companions.


A comparison of problem-solving success between urban and rural house sparrows.
Papp, S., Vincze, E., Preiszner, B., Liker, A. & Bókony, V. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 69: 471-480, 2015.

Problem-solving box

One of the problem-solving tasks of the experiment. photo: Veronika Bókony

Behavioral flexibility is an important component of adaptation as it can help animals to exploit new or diverse habitats. Due to the abundance of novel objects and resources provided by humans, urban environments may select for better problem solving skills in wild animals. To test this idea, we compared the performance of house sparrows from urban and rural habitats in four novel problem solving tasks during which they had to acquire food from different feeders. These results demonstrate that problem solving success shows both individual consistency and context dependence, and whether or not urban individuals are more innovative across various situations.


Habitat urbanization and its effects on birds.
Seress, G. & Liker, A. Acta Zoologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 61: 373-408, 2015

This review focuses on the bottom-up and top-down regulation of urban bird communities. In our work we also discuss and illustrate the mechanisms which generate and uphold the changes in urban avian communities, and affect birds’ physiology, behaviour, morphology and breeding success.


One of the latex masks used in the experiment (alias: EV camouflaged)

One of the latex masks used in the experiment (alias: EV disguised)

Does urbanization facilitate individual recognition of humans by house sparrows?
Ernő Vincze, Sándor Papp, Bálint Preiszner, Gábor Seress, András Liker & Veronika Bókony; Animal Cognition 18: 291-298, 2015

Individual recognition of humans may be beneficial for animals living in an anthropogenic environment, but little is known about how this ability changes along the urban gradient. In this study we captured house sparrows from differently urbanized habitats and manipulated their experience (hostile or not) associated with humans with different faces (masks). Surprisingly, we found that rural sparrows adjusted their behaviour more to the percieved dangerousness of the person than their urban conspecifics.

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