Editor's Choice: Is the denser feathers in grey Tawny owls an adaptation to cold environments?

Submitted by Johan on 19 January 2016.

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Surviving in cold environments at high latitudes puts a great premium on behavioral, morphological and physiological adaptations to conserve heat. One of the most prominent adaptations is the plumage of birds which when fluffed may form a very effective insulation layer.

In a new exciting paper, Koskenpato et al. sets out to investigate the insulation properties of feathers from the two morphs, grey and brown, of tawny owls (Strix aluco).  Interesting back-ground information is that the grey morph survives much better during severe cold winters. In line with this, the authors found greater density of feather structures known to be of insulation value on dorsal feathers in the grey than in the brown morph. Thus, by having a better coat, the grey morph can reduce energy requirements for thermoregulation during cold winters and thereby gain a survival advantage over the brown morph.


Jan-Åke Nilsson, Editor in Chief

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Editor´s Choice