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Smart birds may work well under climate change

Credit: AIXabay / CC0 public domain

Many North American migratory birds are shrinking in size due to the rise in temperature over the last 40 years. However, a new study from Washington University in St. Louis found that people with very large brains compared to their size did not contract as much as birds with smaller brains. This is the first study to identify a direct link between human-made cognition of climate change and animal response.


The change in the size of the songbird’s body is small but important and affects familiars. Race Of sparrows, warblers, thrushes. In fact, resizing is so widespread that some scientists suggest that reductions are a universal response to global warming.But new research has been announced Ecology letter Shows that the big-headed bird was able to figure out the contraction, at least to some extent.

“As the temperature rises, the size of the body gets smaller,” said Justin Baldwin, Ph.D. A candidate for Carlos Botero’s lab, an assistant professor of biology in arts and sciences at the University of Washington. “But cerebral seeds are not as strongly declining as cerebellar seeds.”

Baldwin and his co-authors analyzed information about about 70,000 birds that died when they collided with a Chicago building between 1978 and 2016. They first reinforced this vast data set. Release Includes new brain volume measurements and lifespan data for 49 of the 52 North American migratory birds included in the original study, by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Scientists at the University of Washington found that birds with very large brains compared to their bodies were only about one-third the size of the body observed in birds with small brains.

And the larger brain is important for birds.

Relative brain size is often Substitute for bird behavioral flexibility.. According to Baldwin, applying this idea to other animals is controversial, but it works well for birds.

“Relative brain size correlates with improved learning ability, improved memory, longer lifespan, and demographic stabilization,” says Baldwin.

“In this case, smarter bird species may be able to reduce exposure to warming temperatures, for example by looking for lower temperature microhabitats,” he said.

New discoveries are important because this is the first time scientists have been able to show a direct link between cognitive and phenotypic responses. Climate change..

More or better options

It is not entirely clear why so many songbirds are shrinking in size as temperatures rise. One possible reason is that heat causes stress, and smaller birds can dissipate heat better. This explanation is consistent with the observation that birds living in the warmer parts of the normal geographic area of ​​the species are smaller than birds living in the colder parts of the area.

However, miniaturization comes with potential fitness costs. Birds may generally want to avoid, for example, increased predation or less competitiveness. In that context, having a larger brain may offer alternatives that are not available for smaller brain species.

“One of the first things that came to me from these findings is that we can already see that climate change has a disproportionate impact on species that are less capable of coping with environmental change through behavior.” Mr. Botero said.

“This doesn’t mean that climate change isn’t affecting smart birds,” says Botero. bird. “

“The species we studied were only twice as different relative to each other. brain It was large enough to reduce the effects of rising breeding temperatures by 70%, “Baldwin said.

The findings also have a practical impact on conservation, at 3 billion. bird (About one-third) Lost in North America since the 1970s.. “It’s probably a lot of natural selection that gives different hits to different species,” Baldwin said.

“A rapid change in the environment often produces a few winners and many losers, which is a real shame,” he said. “As the Earth warms, many wildlife populations have moved to colder places. Choices force non-moving populations to adapt, for example, by modifying them. Body size..

Baldwin’s analysis reveals that small-headed species may have undergone particularly strong natural selection. This is the fact that planners may need to consider for maintenance.

“When it comes to climate change mitigation and planning, the main goal is to maintain population-level connectivity,” says Baldwin. “We want to allow species to move towards extremes or uphills to keep up with the warming climate. Our findings show that this type of intervention is particularly important for cerebellar species. It suggests that there may be. ”


Birds are “Climate Change Coal Mine Canary Islands”


For more information:
Justin W. Baldwin et al, the phenotypic response to climate change is significantly weakened in large-headed birds. Ecology letter (2022). DOI: 10.1111 / ele.13971

Quote: Smart birds may work well under climate change (February 10, 2022).

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Smart birds may work well under climate change

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