Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The spectacular courtship dance of the male Golden-Collared Manakin

A small male bird called a Golden-Collared Manakin performs a difficult, elaborate, physically demanding courtship dance. In new research, life scientists report that female Golden-Collared Manakins select mates based on subtle differences in motor performance during these dances. "The male jumps like he's been shot out of a cannon," said study co-author Barney Schlinger, professor at UCLA. "It's exquisite. He sails like an acrobat and lands perfectly on a perch, like a gymnast landing a flawless dismount. Not only is there power to his muscle contractions but incredible speed as well."

"The females prefer the males that perform the elements of the dance faster and demonstrate better motor coordination," said lead author Julia Barske, a UCLA graduate student and doctoral candidate. "Females prefer more active males that do more courtship activity." "Julia's data show that the females select the males that completed elements of the courtship dance in 50 milliseconds over the males that took 80 milliseconds," Schlinger said.

The courtship dance reveals the male's neuromuscular capability, Schlinger said. Using miniature telemetry devices, Barske measured the birds' heart rates and found that while the heart rate is normally 600 beats per minute or lower, during the courtship display it can go as high as 1,300 beats per minute. "This heart rate is extremely high; in the avian world, only hummingbirds have heart rates of 1,300 beats per minute," Barske said.

If the video isn't showing you can see it here.

"Our data suggest the courtship display is a proxy for survival capability," Schlinger said. "To survive in the wild, it's an advantage to have extra neuromuscular capability. Being faster can enable a golden-collared manakin to escape a predator." Golden-collared manakins (Manacus vitellinus) live in Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica. For the research, Barske spent three months in a rainforest near Gamboa, a town along the Panama Canal, not far from Panama City. She observed the birds for several hours daily, filmed 18 male birds with high-speed video and ultra–high-speed cameras that produced 125 images per second, and recorded their courtship success.

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