Feb 21 2012
WTVR 6 (Virginia) - by WTVR Web Staff
Biologists at Virginia Tech will receive a grant from the National Science Foundation--the premier source of funding for science and engineering in the United States--to study the effects of stress, but not on people, on birds.
The biologists were awarded $705,000 to research whether or not stressed out birds make good parents.
Researchers say they will track the presence of glucocorticoids, which provide temporary energy boosts to thrive in dangerous situations. The hormones become elevated in stressful situations, and are present in almost all living organisms.
The scientists pointed to the environment of birds--filled with wind, storms, predators, noise, and limited food and shelter—and the challenge of protecting an egg or raising a tiny baby bird.
Scientists will conduct experiments in which they change the birds' hormone levels, brood sizes, and blood parasite loads and then measure the effects on parenting behaviors.
Scientists predict one of several outcomes:
“One possible scenario is that there is no connection between glucocorticoid levels and bird parenting behaviors. In a second scenario, a mother's decision to cut and run will be based on the offspring's age and health—if it's older and healthy, the mother will sacrifice her own needs to increase her young's chance of surviving. A last possible scenario is that the mother will choose to invest in herself when conditions worsen.”
In a report last year Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma criticized the NSF and raised questions about the agency's management and priorities. He accused the foundation of squandering "millions of dollars on wasteful projects," including three that involve robots.