The Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology is a biological research institute for the study of animal behavior. Ethology (or Behavioral Biology) is an integrative field that addresses questions about how and why animals do what they do. Since spring 2015 it is also the headquaters of the Österreichischen Vogelwarte/Austrian Ornithological Centre (AOC).

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How to motivate a mouse to sing

House mice (Photo: Bettina Wernisch)
Haus mice in the lab

Males often vocalize during courtship in a wide variety of taxa, including insects, amphibians, birds and mammals, but the courtship songs of male house mice are ultrasonic, and inaudible to human ears. Studying the ultrasonic vocalizations or USVs of mice therefore requires special microphones and spectrograms to visualize the characteristic features of different calls. Researchers from the Penn-Zala Group at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology (University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna) recently developed an improved method for automating the detection of mouse USVs, which they now used to investigate a way of inducing male mice to vocalize.

The article “Primed to vocalize: wild-derived male house mice increase vocalization rate and diversity after a previous encounter with a female 8” by Sarah M. Zala, Doris Nicolakis, Maria Adelaide Marconi, Anton Noll, Thomas Ruf, Peter Balazs, and Dustin J. Penn was published in Plos one.

More info 9

(Web editor, 14 December 2020)


White-backed woodpecker as an indicator of near-natural habitats in Europe

White-backed woodpecker (Photo_Xulescu G, Creative Commons BY-SA-4.0-WikimediaCommons)
White-backed woodpecker 10

Ornithologists have used multilocus molecular data and species distribution models to study the phylogenetics and phylogeography of the white-backed woodpecker. The white-backed woodpecker is an indicator of near-natural forests, and has an important European occurrence in Austria's mountain forests. Its importance for nature conservation lies in this indicator function. Like the great spotted woodpecker, but with gaps, it is distributed over the whole of Eurasia and has developed some island forms in the Far East. Hans Winkler et al. had already shown in 2005 that the Okinawa woodpecker, which has long been incorrectly classified, is a direct relative of the white-backed woodpecker.

The researchers emphasize that although this species of woodpecker is not classified as endangered, the highest genetic diversity is found in the population in the Białowieża Forest in Poland (the last remnant of a primeval forest in the lowlands of Europe) and in the Carpathian forests. These natural areas protect the genetic diversity of the white-backed woodpecker populations - an indication of the importance of maintaining near-natural forests for biodiversity.

The article "Phylogeography of a widespread Palaearctic forest bird species: The White-backed Woodpecker (Aves, Picidae) 11" by Jean‐Marc Pons, David Campión, Giorgio Chiozzi, Antonia Ettwein, Jean‐Louis Grangé, Łukasz Kajtoch, Tomasz D. Mazgajski, Marko Rakovic, Hans Winkler and Jérôme Fuchs was published in the journal Zoologica Scripta.

(Web editor, 2 December 2020)


The ultrasonic songs of mice contain distinctive individual signatures

House mouse (Photo: Bettina Wernisch/Vetmeduni Vienna)
house mouse

House mice emit complex ultrasonic vocalizations or USVs, which are above the range of human hearing. A recent study from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna) found that the USVs emitted by wild male mice contain distinctive individual signatures that are stable over time. Their findings show that these signals potentially mediate individual recognition.

USVs are surprisingly complex at many levels of organization, and the researchers found signatures of individual identity at every level that they analysed, including emission rates, mean frequency and duration, the number of different types of USVs, and even the length of silent intervals between calls. Moreover, using a machine learning algorithm, they were able to assign approximately 90% of recordings to the correct individual.

The article "Ultrasonic courtship vocalizations of male house mice contain distinct individual signatures 12" by Maria Adelaide Marconi, Doris Nicolakis, Reyhaneh Abbasi, Dustin J. Penn, and Sarah M.Zala was published in Animal Behaviour.

(Web editor,  4 November 2020)


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