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Lead linked to aggression in mockingbirds

Cara J

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Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) are known to be a territorial species, but researchers recently found that the presence of lead in the environment can make them even more territorial and aggressive. In a study published in Science of the Total Environment, lead author Stephanie McClelland, who is currently a PhD student at Royal Holloway University of London, and her team looked at the aggression of urban mockingbirds in New Orleans, comparing those in neighborhoods with high and low levels of lead in the soil. McClelland conducted the research as part of her master’s work at Tulane University in New Orleans. “We first noticed how aggressive they were in neighborhoods that had high lead as an observation,” McClelland said. “We looked into it a bit more, and there was a strong difference.” The team put up a taxidermized mockingbird in a threatening position — with its wings out — in a male mockingbird’s territory. “We would hear the male singing and would know that’s the center of the territory,” McClelland said. “That would give us an idea of where their turf is.” Researchers placed a cage around a mockingbird mount to protect it from aggression by live mockingbirds. ©Stephanie McClelland Then, they played [...]

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