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Two warbler species find the West isn't big enough for both of them

ound that in places once inhabited by hermits and now populated only by Townsend's large parts of Washington, British Columbia and Alaska the existing birds carry genetic evidence that hermits once interbred with Townsend's.

The research by Butler and Noah Owen-Ashley, who recently completed UW doctoral work in biology, is being published online Aug. 25 in Biology Letters, a journal of The Royal Society, the United Kingdom's national academy of science. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology and the Garrett Eddy Ornithological Endowment at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the UW.

In the spring of 2001 and 2002, Owen-Ashley and Butler worked at one site where the species come together, in the Washington Cascades south of Mount Rainier. They used a fine net to capture individual Townsend's, hermit and hybrid warblers. All the captures came between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. to minimize the effect on their measurements of hormone level fluctuations throughout the day. They lured the birds with taped warbler song and decoys, and males were captured before females were present in the area or before the birds were socially mated. The researchers also worked in two other areas of Washington state, one with only Townsend's warblers and the other with only hermits.

Once the birds were captured, the researchers drew blood from veins in the wings, then placed it on ice until they could use a centrifuge to separate the plasma, done within six hours. The plasma was stored at minus-20 degrees Celsius to preserve the hormones until it could be returned to the UW for analysis.

The scientists found substantially higher androgen levels in both the Townsend's warblers and the hybrid species than in the hermit, which could explain why the hermit has consistently, over thousands of years, lost its territory to the Townsend's. It also could explain why previous studies have
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Contact: Vince Stricherz
vinces@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
24-Aug-2004


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