Brains and bravery: Little evidence of a relationship between brain size and flightiness in shorebirds

Authors

  • P.-J. GUAY,

    1. School of Engineering and Science, and Institute for Sustainability and Innovation, Victoria University, St-Albans Campus, PO Box 14428, Melbourne MC, Vic. 8001, Australia (Email: patrick.guay@vu.edu.au)
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  • M. A. WESTON,

    1. Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, Deakin University, Melbourne, Victoria
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  • M. R. E. SYMONDS,

    1. Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, Deakin University, Melbourne, Victoria
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  • H. K. GLOVER

    1. Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, Deakin University, Melbourne, Victoria
    2. Pioneer Catchment and Landcare Group, Mackay, Queensland, Australia
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Abstract

The ability of birds to perceive, assess and appropriately respond to the presence of relatively novel threats is important to their survival. We hypothesized that the cognitive capacity of birds will influence their ability for accurate response to novelty. We used brain volume as a surrogate for cognitive capacity and postulated that larger brained birds would moderate their responses when presented with a benign, frequently occurring stimulus, such as a person, because they would habituate more readily. We conducted phylogenetic generalized least square regression to investigate the relationship between brain volume and flight initiation distance (FID; the distance to which a bird can be approached before initiating escape behaviour), while controlling for confounding factors including body size (body mass and wing length) and migration status. We compared seven different models using combinations of these parameters using Akaike's information criterion to determine the best approximating model(s) explaining FID. The two best-supported models included only wing length and only body mass with Akaike weights of 0.396 and 0.311 respectively. No model including brain volume had an Akaike weight greater than 0.083 and brain volume was poorly correlated with FID in models after controlling for body mass. Thus, brain volume does not appear to strongly relate to bravery among these shorebirds.

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