Feathers Of Migrating Birds Carry Plant Fragments To New Locations
June 12, 2014

Feathers Of Migrating Birds Carry Plant Fragments To New Locations

Gerard LeBlond for www.redorbit.com - Your Universe Online

One question that biologists have is why do plants grow in the northern regions of North America and southern regions of South America, but nowhere in between? Researchers have discovered a possible explanation to why this happens. Migratory birds from the Arctic harbor fly to South America with small fragments of plants in their feathers.

Over the last several decades, scientists have speculated on this idea but have gone without reputable information. However, new evidence was found from a team of ten biologists, three of whom were students engaging in their first scientific research experience. They collected feathers from migratory birds and analyzed them under a microscope, revealing 23 plant fragments trapped in the feathers of birds ready to head for South America.

These fragments are believed to be capable of forming new plants, several of which were types of moss. Moss is a hardy plant and more than half can self-fertilize to produce offspring or clone themselves. A new population of moss can be established from just a single dispersal.

“Mosses are especially abundant and diverse in the far Northern and Southern reaches of the Americas, and relative to other types of plants, they commonly occur in both of these regions, yet they have been largely overlooked by scientists studying this extreme distribution. Mosses can help to illuminate the processes that shape global biodiversity,” explained Lily Lewis from the University of Connecticut.

“We really had no idea what we might find,” added Emily Behling, a senior studying biology at the University of Connecticut. “Each feather was like a lottery ticket, and as we got further into the project I was ecstatic about how many times we won.”

Along with the moss fragments, researchers found evidence of other plant fragments and spores including cyanobacteria, fungi and algae.

The study, titled “First evidence of bryophyte diaspores in the plumage of transequatorial migrant birds,” was published today in PeerJ.