Principal researcher: Juan Carlos Senar

Period: 2009-2013

Although the evolution of sexual signalling has recently attracted a great deal of interest in evolutionary biology, several key points remain unresolved. The first one relates to how signal reliability is maintained. Although several mechanisms have been suggested, the topic is highly controversial. One of the main aims of the project is to investigate experimentally, mechanisms to maintain the honesty of sexual and social signals. A second key unresolved topic relates to understanding what kind of benefits signal receivers may acquire and which is the information encoded in signals, especially from a genetic point of view. Our aim is to relate the major histocompatibility gene complex (MHC) to plumage coloration and bird song, which can have inferences for the good-genes hypothesis. A third key unresolved topic relates to the evolution of multiple signals of male quality. If signals can encode different information and these are uncorrelated, it is reasonable to predict that different units of information can be signalled by different ornaments/armaments. Our aim is to provide experimental data on how different patches of plumage colours within an individual or even different qualities of the same patch (i.e. hue and chroma) can provide different units of information. Because individual differences in social behaviour (i.e. personality) may have consequences for mate and group companion choice and sexual/social signalling, we predict that partners should develop preferences for personalities that maximize reproductive output and individual fitness. Hence, our final aim is to relate variation in plumage coloration and song, within the framework of multiple signals, to avian personalities and hence, to the evolution of strategies and signalling.


Principal researcher: Miguel Ferrer

Period: 2014-2015

The aim of this project is to develop systems for the acquisition of data and monitoring of wildlife based on unmanned aircraft systems (UASs). We will focus on two areas of application:

-Wildlife census and monitoring. UASs offer a great opportunity to substantially improve the process of wildlife monitoring and surveillance by being a cost-effective method, with lower disturbance and higher accuracy than traditional approaches, particularly in remote or difficult-to-access areas. The major drawback of this approach is related to the analysis of the data since manual processing of a large number of images to detect individuals is a time consuming task. Thus, our aim will be to implemente an automatic recognition system of wildlife based on data acquired by UASs.

-Wildlife tracking and location. The deployment of electronic devices on wildlife is widely extended and has multiple applications; it allows to record the movements of the marked individuals, serves to locate their feeding and breeding areas or permits registering multiple activity and physiological parameters. VHF radio tagging and gps logging devices are nowadays two of the most common wildlife marking systems, but tracking and (re) capturing animals maybe challenging and is both time-consuming and expensive. The use of UASs to automatically track and locate animals is a promising solution by having a great potential to reduce cost and efforts in this research field.

Principal researchers: Juan J. Negro, Jose H. Sarasola

Period: 2010-2011

The Crowned Solitary Eagle (Buteogallus coronatus) is one of the rarest and most severely threatened birds of prey in the Neotropical region. Its range extends from southern Brazil to northern Patagonia, where it inhabits a variety of forested habitats, including woodlands and other savanna-like landscapes. The species is listed as endangered under the IUCN Red List with a declining world population estimated at less than one thousand reproductive individuals. Reduced population size and range contraction of Crowned Solitary Eagles is suspected to be human induced, including habitat, electrocution, as well as shooting.

Possibly, because Crowned Solitary Eagles occurs in low densities in remote and barely explored areas, little is known about the biology of the species and no information exists on the demography and population connectivity between geographic regions. Likewise, there is a lack of knowledge on the extent to which population decline and range contraction have affected levels of genetic diversity in this species. The main goal of this project is evaluate the genetic status of Crowned Solitary Eagles. Specifically, the project focuses on::

1. Estimate the neutral genetic diversity (microsatellites) and investigate the existence of population structure between populations of this endangered species.

2. Evaluate, using historical and contemporary samples, the genetic impact of the demographic reduction experienced by the Crowned Solitary Eagle.

3. Develop monitoring protocols of the species using non-invasive techniques.