$384,949 Federal Study Looks at 'Plasticity in Duck Penis Length'

March 19, 2013 - 1:35 PM

Ruddy Duck

The Ruddy Duck (US Wildlife Service Photo) is among the types of ducks whose penis length was measured in a study on duck genitalia.

(CNSNews.com) - The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $384,949 grant to Yale University for a study on “Sexual Conflict, Social Behavior and the Evolution of Waterfowl Genitalia”, according to the recovery.gov website.

The grant description says,“The project examines how reproductive morphology covaries with season, age, and social environment in a diverse sample of duck species that differ in ecology, territoriality and breeding system."

The grant was made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus package.

The project has been receiving money from the NSF since 2009 and is slated for funding through July of this year.

“In the last quarter, we have prepared a manuscript for submission on the results of the first two years of experiments on social phenotypic plasticity in duck penis length in Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Duck. Experiments continued on genital social phenotypic plasticity in Mandarin Duck and Laysan Teal,” a 2010 fourth quarter recovery.gov update on the study says.

Many duck penises are cork-screw shaped and some scientists believe this is because of a form of evolution known as "sexual conflict".

NSF spokeswoman Deborah Wing told CNSNews.com the updated title of the study is "Sexual Conflict, Social Behavior and Evolution." Wing says, "The study met the criteria of the NSF panel of scientific peers as part of the grant approval process."

According to the NSF grant abstract the study shows that age, environment and breeding changes can impact the penis length of certain ducks, “Preliminary results of the project, suggest that male competition plays an important role in the evolution of waterfowl reproductive morphology, that male reproductive morphology is plastic depending on age and condition, and between species with different breeding systems.”

"The NSF strives to be good stewards of taxpayers dollars," Wing says, "Basic research often is combined with other research efforts and turns into bigger things."

"Government funded grants for research have assisted in creating the barcode and Google," Wing added.

The NSF grant abstract states, “Broader impacts of the research will be international, national, local, and personal."

Among those having a personal experience with the study are young minorities. “The project will incorporate high school students from under-represented minorities through the Yale University EVOLUTIONISTS program,” the NSF grant page says.

E-mail and phone attempts by CNSNews.com to contact the study’s Principal Research Investigator, Richard Prum, a professor at Yale University, were unreturned.