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Monsoons make Ariz. residents' hormones soar

By

Margaret Coulombe

A recent article in the Green Valley News gives Arizona residents something to think about when they reach for their umbrellas next monsoon season.

The article reveals how Arizona wild rangelands not only support tourism, but studies that offer insight into hormones and human health. The article features Arizona State University ornithologist Pierre Deviche, a professor in the School of Life Sciences who has journeyed to the Santa Rita Experimental Range for over a decade. The 50,000-acre site south of Tucson, founded in 1903, is “one of the world’s oldest continuously studied rangelands” and offers a real-world laboratory for long-term studies of climate change, land management, invasive species and Deviche’s studies of avian reproductive endocrinology.

Why study hormones in birds? Deviche’s group examines the impact that the environment has on avian reproductive activity and success. Studies of hormones in birds can offer insight into human systems, Deviche believes, because “birds produce many of the same – or nearly the same – hormones as other vertebrates, including humans. Therefore, the effects of these hormones are largely similar.”

The article highlights his work with grassland sparrows in Santa Rita, which offers a living laboratory to examine how seasonal changes, such as day length and duration of monsoons, affect breeding activities of these birds in Arizona. Deviche explains that “many birds are seasonal breeders. Their reproductive system is activated during a specific period of the year… and regressed at other times. In terms of underlying hormonal mechanisms, it is similar to human puberty, which is a topic of considerable scientific interest.”

In addition to his research in Santa Rita, which is supported by the National Science Foundation, and other field sites in Arizona, Deviche is active in public outreach. He volunteers as a field guide for birdwatching with the Maricopa Audubon Society, Desert Rivers Audubon Society and Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. He also collects recordings of birds and answers questions about them for ASU School of Life Sciences’ Ask A Biologist website, an online science education resource for children, teachers, parents and life-long learners (http://askabiologist.asu.edu). In addition, Deviche also hosts dragonfly walks with the Boyce Thompson Arboretum and has developed a website about Arizona’s species: azdragonfly.net.

To learn more about Dr. Deviche and songbirds: http://ask...