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Odour-based discrimination of subspecies, species and sexes in an avian species complex, the crimson rosella

journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2014, 00:00 authored by Milla Mihailova, Mathew BergMathew Berg, Kate BuchananKate Buchanan, Andy BennettAndy Bennett
Olfaction is an ancient sensory capability, and yet while it is now widely recognized that birds have olfactory mechanisms, use of the sense within a social context has been largely overlooked. In our study, we aimed to determine, for the first time, whether plumage odour may contribute to avian subspecies discrimination. We used a species complex, the crimson rosella, Platycercus elegans, which exhibits large geographical and phenotypic differences. Across 2 years in a wild population of P.elegans elegans we tested whether females at the nest could: (1) discriminate odours of conspecifics; (2) discriminate odours of subspecies; (3) discriminate odours of sexes of conspecifics; and (4) habituate at different rates to odour treatments. We found that female response differed between odours of feathers of consubspecifics, heterosubspecifics, heterospecific controls and sham controls and between odours of sexes of conspecifics. Across all odour treatments, we found habituation to the odour and the rate of habituation differed between odour treatments. Our results indicate that P.e. elegans females are able to discriminate conspecifics, consubspecifics and sexes based on plumage odour. To our knowledge, this is the first work to show that birds of a certain subspecies can discriminate the odour of its own subspecies from that of other subspecies. Our findings suggest that olfaction in birds may play a larger role than hitherto considered, and may even act as a signal to maintain or promote population divergence. © 2014 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.



Animal Behaviour




155 - 164




Camden, London





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal; C Journal article

Copyright notice

2014, Elsevier