From: Patricia Reaney, Reuters
Published January 10, 2007 12:00 AM

Study Shows Bigger Brains Give Birds Survival Benefit

LONDON -- Birds with bigger brains like crows and parrots survive better than their dimmer feathered friends, according to a study published on Wednesday.


Scientists have suspected that birds with large brains in relation to their body size lived longer because they were able to adapt their behaviour and cope with environmental challenges.


Now they have provided evidence that it does.


"We have tested the hypothesis that the brain can buffer animals against the environment and help them to survive when they face environmental challenges," said Dr Daniel Sol, of the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications in Barcelona, Spain.


After comparing mortality rates, brain size and body mass of 236 species of birds from different regions of the world, Sol and scientists in Britain, Hungary and Canada discovered that the bigger the brain the better.


"We have found that species that have the larger brains are the ones that survive better, suggesting that the brain has helped them to survive. That's the main finding of this work," Sol told Reuters.


Crows, ravens and parrots have the largest brains while pheasants have a relatively small brain.


Earlier studies have shown there is a relationship between the size of the brain and an animal's capacity to create new behaviours and adapt more easily.


Studies of primates have produced similar findings.


"The idea is that if you have a big brain you are more capable of adjusting behaviour and responding to environmental changes. This can help you to survive," said Sol, who reported the finding in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.


Big-brained birds are also better at colonising new regions and coping with changing seasons.


Dr Tamas Szekely, of the University of Bath in England and a co-author of the report, said birds were ideal to test the hypothesis because they are the only species in which brain size and behavioural response to environmental challenges is understood.


"Our findings suggest that large-brained animals might be better prepared to cope with environmental challenges such as climate change and habitat destruction," Szekely said. (editing by Steve Addison, Reuters Messaging: patricia.reaney.reuters.com@reuters.net))


Source: Reuters


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