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Gardening Birds

May 8, 2012

Male Spotted Bowerbirds unintentionally cultivate ornamental plants while attempting to woo the opposite sex.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Gardening birds…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Male bowerbirds create elaborate displays, decorating their bowers with colorful fruits, flowers and even shiny manmade objects in order to seduce the opposite sex. But one species, called the spotted bowerbird, may actually be cultivating the fruits the females like best. According toUniversityofExeteranimal behaviorist Joah Madden, female spotted bowerbirds choose males whose bowers sport the largest number of green bush tomato fruits.

When the fruit begins to decay, the male discards it and replaces it with fresh fruit. Madden and his colleagues noticed that about eight times as many bush tomatoes grow near these bowers than you’d expect by chance.

JOAH MADDEN (UniversityofExeter):

And we think it’s these discarded fruits that then are germinating in that area, and then growing up to provide the plants.

HIRSHON:

He adds that human agriculture may have gotten its start when our ancestors unintentionally tossed out seed fruit as well. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the society.

A male Spotted Bowerbird adds green fruits to his bower to attract females. (University of Exeter)