Roller coaster migration of bar-headed geese saves energy during flight at high altitudes

An international team of scientists that includes Dr. Graham Scott in the Department of Biology have revealed how bar-headed geese (Anser indicus) fly at high altitudes during their migration across the Himalayan mountains, in an article published in the January 16 issue of Science. The study used custom-designed data loggers to measure heart rate, body acceleration, and temperature during the southward migration from their breeding grounds in Mongolia to their wintering grounds in India. The new study shows that the geese perform a sort of roller coaster ride through the mountains that helps them save energy and complete their challenging migration.

Historically, it was commonly assumed that bar-headed geese would fly to high altitudes relatively easily and then remain there during their flights, possibly benefitting from a tailwind. However, the study found that flying becomes progressively more difficult for the geese at higher altitudes, where there is less oxygen in the air to breathe and the reduced air density decreases the bird’s ability to produce the lift and thrust required to maintain flight. By tracking the underlying terrain, even if this means repeatedly shedding hard-won altitude only to have to regain height later in the same or subsequent flight, the birds were able to reduce the energetic costs of their migration. On occasion, they also flew in relatively strong updrafts of air to reduce the work needed to stay aloft. The geese are thus able to fly across the world’s highest mountains while remaining comfortably within their physiological capabilities. How is this possible? “The physiology of bar-headed geese has evolved in a number of ways to extract oxygen from the thin air at high altitudes”, said Dr. Graham Scott. “As a result, they are able to accomplish something that is impossible for most other birds.”

The article can be found on the Science website, at

New species of frog found on remarkable island gives birth to live tadpoles

The tiny island of Sulawesi in Indonesia is known to scientists as a hotspot of biodiversity, a remote pocket of ecological treasures that is home to a rare species of fanged frog first discovered in the late 1990s.

After years of documenting its evolution, an international team of scientists has now revealed it is the only known frog, of roughly six-thousand species in the world, to give birth to live tadpoles instead of laying eggs

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World’s smelliest plant blooms at McMaster

The world’s smelliest flower is in bloom at McMaster’s Biology Greenhouse. The Amorphophallus Titanum – better known as the corpse plant – is only expected to be in bloom for up to three days. It’s just the third known flowering of the plant in Canada, and it may not bloom again for another 10 years. The rare plant has reached a height of five feet, six inches and a diameter of three and a half feet. It grew out of a 50-pound corm planted late last year.

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The 2nd Annual Biology Graduate Research Day was a great success

We thank everyone for their participation and attendance. The following awards were presented…


George diCenzo (3rd Prize – Oral Presentation)

Tamzin Blewett (2ndPrize – Oral Presentation)

Lindsay Keegan (1st Prize – Oral Presentation)

Dr.Bhagwati Gupta, Associate Chair, Biology Graduate Studies

Shaiya Robinson (3rd Prize – Poster Presentation)

Angus Ho (2nd Prize – Poster Presentation)

Sheridan Baker (2nd Honourable Mention – Poster Presentation)

Alex Zimmer (1st Honour – Poster Presentation)

RogerJacobs (Chair of Biology)

Missing from photo: Shamaila Fraz (1st Prize Poster Presentation)




Tamzin Blewett (Publication -Environmental Physiology)

Cody Dey (Publication -Ecology and Evolution)

Jennifer Klunk (Publication -Genetics and Molecular Biology)

Lindsay Keegan (Outstanding Achievement – Teaching Assistant)

Benjamin Furman (Exemplary Service to “The Biology Graduate Student Society”)

Dr. Bhagwati Gupta (Associate Chair -Biology Graduate Studies)

Qanber Raza (Outstanding Research Communication Award)

Dr. John Howe (Keynote Speaker from Merck, USA)

Dr. Roger Jacobs (Chair – Biology).

Missing from photo: Ayush Ranawade (Significant Service to the  Department)