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Big brains can help an animal mount quick, flexible behavioral responses to frequent or unexpected environmental changes. But some birds just don't need 'em.
A global study comparing 2,062 birds finds that, in highly variable environments, birds tend to have either larger or smaller brains relative to their body size. Birds with smaller brains tend to use ecological strategies that are not available to big-brained counterparts. Instead of relying on grey matter to survive, these birds tend to have large bodies, eat readily available food and make lots of babies.
Research - Biologists - Washington - University - St
The new research from biologists at Washington University in St. Louis appears Aug. 23 in the journal Nature Communications.
"The fact is that there are a great many species that do quite well with small brains," said Trevor Fristoe, formerly a postdoctoral researcher at Washington University, now at the University of Konstanz in Germany.
Ground - Fristoe - Resident - Species - Brain
"What's really interesting is that we don't see any middle ground here," Fristoe said. "The resident species with intermediate brain size are almost completely absent from high latitude (colder and more climatically variable) environments. The species that don't go all in on either of the extreme strategies are forced to migrate to more benign climates during the winter."
"Having a large brain is typically associated with strong energetic demands and a slower life-history," said Carlos Botero, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and co-author of the paper. "Free from these constraints, species with small brains can exhibit traits and lifestyles that are never seen in larger-brained ones.
Strategies - Increase - Decrease - Investments - Brain
"What we found is that alternative ecological strategies that either increase or decrease investments in brain tissue are equally capable of coping with the challenges of living in high-latitude environments," he said.
Because the brain is such a costly organ to develop and maintain, biologists have long been interested in understanding how large brain...
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