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article imageGenetic secrets of the world's toughest bird revealed

By Tim Sandle     Aug 4, 2013 in Environment
Scientists have revealed the genetic secrets of how a small bird can survive in one of the most hostile environments on earth. The bird is the ground tit (Parus humilis), which lives in the Tibetan plateau.
The Tibetan plateau, the largest high-altitude land mass in the world. It is a hostile environment for most creatures, yet a small bird called the ground tit survive and flourishes. Researchers think that this is all due to the birds' genetic make-up.
The Ground Tit is a lark-like bird which lives to the north of the Himalayas. It is about the size of a House Sparrow. The Tibetan Ground-tit inhabits open alpine steppe and sometimes more arid regions with small scattered shrubs, rarely if ever occurring lower than 3,000 meters above sea level.
A new study shows how the birds are well adapted to living with low oxygen levels, and this has come about through genetic modifications. In particular, compared with related birds, the Ground Tit has a positive selection for genes involved in hypoxia response (to the reduced oxygen content of air) and skeletal development.
Interestingly, the bird has a a reduced capacity to smell, which is probably due to the limited variety of scents to be found in the arid, alpine meadow environment.
The study was carried out by a research team based at Griffith University and led by Professor David Lambert and Dr Sankar Subramanian. The findings have been published in the journal Nature Communications. The paper is titled "Ground tit genome reveals avian adaptation to living at high altitudes in the Tibetan plateau."
More about ground tit, Parus humilis, Tibet, Birds, Bird
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