The research provides the first evidence for what scientists describe as the ‘cognitive buffer’ hypothesis - the idea that having a large brain enables animals to have more flexible behaviours and survive environmental challenges.
This theory was first put forward to answer the puzzle surrounding why animals, including humans, would evolve a larger brain, given the ‘cost’ associated with developing and maintaining a larger brain.
The researchers compared the brain size, body mass and mortality rates in over 200 different species of birds from polar, temperate and tropical regions.
They found that birds with larger brains relative to their body size survived better in nature than birds with small brains. This may explain why, for example, birds with small relative brain sizes, such as pheasants, find it harder to avoid a moving car than those with larger brain size, such as magpies.
“The idea that large brains are associated with reduced mortality has never been scientifically tested,” said Dr Tamas Szekely from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry at the University of Bath.
“Birds are ideally suited for such a test, as they are one of the only groups of animals for which the relationship between large brains and enhanced behavioural response to ecological challenges is best understood.
“We have shown that species with larger brains relative to their body size experience lower mortality than species with smaller brains, supporting the general importance of the cognitive buffer hypothesis in the evolution of large brains.”
The researchers made allowances for factors which may have accounted for variations in mortality rates, such as migratory behaviour, competition for mates and chick behaviour.
“Our findings suggest that large-brained animals might be better prepared to cope with environmental challenges such as climate change and habitat destruction,” said Dr Szekely, who worked with researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain), Pannon University (Hungary) and McGill University (Canada) on the project.
“This is supported by other research which has shown that large-brained birds are more successful in colonising new regions and are better at surviving the changing seasons.”
The research was funded by grants from the Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (Spain), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
Andrew McLaughlin | alfa
How does the loss of species alter ecosystems?
18.05.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Excess diesel emissions bring global health & environmental impacts
16.05.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
29.05.2017 | Earth Sciences
29.05.2017 | Life Sciences
29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy