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Anim Cogn. 2017 Jan;20(1):77-86. doi: 10.1007/s10071-016-1006-1. Epub 2016 Jun 10.

Avian movements in a modern world: cognitive challenges.

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School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, L3 3AF, UK.


Different movement patterns have evolved as a response to predictable and unpredictable variation in the environment with migration being an adaptation to predictable environments, nomadism to unpredictable environments and partial migration to a mixture of predictable and unpredictable conditions. Along different movement patterns, different cognitive abilities have evolved which are reviewed and discussed in relation to an organism's ability to respond to largely unpredictable environmental change due to climate and human-induced change, and linked to population trends. In brief, migrants have a combination of reliance on memory, low propensity to explore and high avoidance of environmental change that in combination with overall small brain sizes results in low flexibility to respond to unpredictable environmental change. In line with this, many migrants have negative population trends. In contrast, while nomads may use their memory to find suitable habitats, they can counteract negative effects of finding such habitats disturbed by large-scale exploratory movements and paying attention to environmental cues. They are also little avoidant of environmental change. Population trends are largely stable or increasing indicating their ability to cope with climate and human-induced change. Cognitive abilities in partial migrants are little investigated, but indicate attention to environmental cues coupled with high exploratory tendencies that allow them a flexible response to unpredictable environmental change. Indeed, their population trends are mainly stable or increasing. In conclusion, cognitive abilities have evolved in conjunction with different movement patterns and affect an organism's ability to adapt to rapidly human-induced changes in the environment.


Brain; Cognition; Environmental change; Migrant; Nomad; Partial migrant

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