Cognitive challenges to migratory birds in a modern world — ASN Events

Cognitive challenges to migratory birds in a modern world (#476)

Claudia Mettke-Hofmann 1
  1. Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom

Migration evolved as an adaptation to highly predictable environmental variation (seasonality). In contrast, human induced changes are often unpredictable and may challenge migrants more than other life-styles. Indeed, migrants are among the strongest declining species worldwide. Migrants have evolved adaptations in morphology, physiology but also cognition. Here I will review examples of cognitive abilities in migrants and how they may be of advantage or disadvantage in a rapidly changing world. As an adaptation to their seasonal environment migrants have evolved a long-term memory to find their way back to the breeding territory, the winter quarter and to remember high-quality stopover sites. This coincides with a relatively larger hippocampal formation while the rest of the forebrain is smaller than in residents. As migrants spent only limited periods of time in each habitat they explore changes in their familiar environment less and also explore novel environments more superficially than closely related resident species. Moreover, migrants show strong avoidance reactions to changes around their feeding location. With respect to personality traits, fewer individuals of a migratory species showed a bold personality type as compared to a closely related resident species. Taken together, the lower and more superficial exploration, particularly once they have settled down may make migrants more susceptible to unpredictable change. Moreover, the long-term memory for particular sites may be disadvantageous when habitats change. Finally, the strong avoidance of changes in their environment may push them into remaining unchanged habitat that is declining or exclude them from new resources. The combination of low exploration, reliance on memory rather than exploration and strong avoidance reactions to changes makes this group particularly vulnerable to unpredictable environmental change due to their lower flexibility in behaviour and lower propensity of bold individuals.