Recent News
Dr. Scot Duncan
Birmingham-Southern College
 

Burrowing Owls Use Dung as Bait for Their Prey

While I was in graduate school (University of Florida), Dr. Doug Levey (UF, Department of Zoology) and I noticed a curious behavior of burrowing owls. These owls, who live in underground burrows, would bring dung (usually from cows or horses) back to their burrows, leaving it just at the entrance. One day we happened to notice that the owls were also consuming large quantities of dung beetles. It occurred to us that they may be using the dung to attract the beetles - essentially, providing a bait for their prey. Such behavior is extremely rare among animals, so we set about determining through experimentation whether the owls were benefiting (by obtaining more food) from bringing dung to their burrows. We recruited Carrie Levins, an undergraduate at UF (BS in Botany and Zoology) to work with us. Over the next few years we were able to clearly document that owls with dung at their burrows were eating more beetles, and more beetle species than they would without the dung. As it turns out, this was the first experimental evidence that tool use provided benefits to wild animals. The study was published in the 2 September 2004 issue of the journal Nature. The story caught the attention of the press and was featured in a range of newspapers and science magazines.

Click here to read a summary of the article in National Geographic News..

Photo at left Courtesy of Dr. Ron Wolff (Univ. of Florida, Dept. of Zoology)

 

Summary of Summer Research 2004

During this last summer research season, I had the pleasure of working with BSC senior Chris Clayton who was supported by BSC's summer internship program. During the summer we accomplished a great amount of work....

Fire Ecology of the Bibb County Dolomite Glades:

We completed surveys of all the plots in the Bibb County Dolomite Glades. Thus, we now have partial data from year 2003 (before the experimental burns of April 2004) and a complete set of data for year 2004. I plan on sampling again in the summer 2005 and 2006, though TNC plans to continue with prescribed burns at the site in late 2005. My preliminary impression of the results is that all species of endemics in the glades have responded well to the fire. Stay tuned…

Mountain Longleaf Pine Ecology at Oak Mountain State Park - Long-term Study Plots:

We completed surveys of exposed rock and shrub cover in the long-term study plots. These surveys were initiated by students in my Fall 2003 Conservation Biology class (Paige Casey, Meredith Humber, John Linhoss, and Rich Williams). These data will help us understand what processes have shaped the structure and composition of the longleaf pine forests in the park. The data are being analyzed this fall.

Mountain Longleaf Pine Ecology at Oak Mountain State Park - Transect Surveys:

We also initiated a new component to the research at the park. With the help of BSC student Robert McClelland, twelve transects were set up within mountain longleaf pine forest stands that have been a) burned recently with prescribed fire, b) burned recently due to wildfire, or c) designated to be burned sometime in the next two years. Within the 5-m wide transects, all trees have been identified, tagged, and their girth (DBH) measured. Transects will be re-surveyed each year. These data will help us monitor how the longleaf forests are responding to management with fire. Eventually, we hope to have middle and high school teachers 'adopt' transects, and collect and contribute data with their classes. Again, stay tuned…

   

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