Is this tiny Australian bird an ecosystem engineer?

(Forty-spotted Pardalote photo by Francesco Veronesi via Flickr)

The Forty-spotted Pardalote is tiny – the endangered songbird measures just a palm’s width from head to tail. Yet its daily activities could be having a big impact in the Manna gum canopies where they forage, a recent study suggests.

Manna gums (Eucalyptus viminalis), along with a limited number of other species, secrete sap that crystallises into a fluffy white substance called manna. The sugary floss is a staple for canopy-dwellers – from birds like the Pardalote, to sugar gliders, possums and ants.

Now, research by Samuel Case and Amanda Edworthy at the Australian National University, suggests that the Pardalotes might not be simply collecting the manna they find, but actively ‘mining’ it from the trees. Previously, manna production was thought to be due to damage inflicted by insects. Continue reading “Is this tiny Australian bird an ecosystem engineer?”