Big-Brained Birds Keep Their Cool

first_imgBird species with larger than average brains have lower levels of a key stress hormone, an analysis of nearly 200 avian studies has concluded. Such birds keep their stress down by anticipating or learning to avoid problems more effectively than smaller-brained counterparts, researchers suggest.Birds in the wild lead a stressful life. Constantly spotting predators lurking in the trees or sensing dramatic changes in temperature is essential for survival, but can leave birds on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Reading these cues triggers changes in the birds’ metabolism, particularly increases in the stress hormone corticosterone. A sharp release of the hormone within 1 to 2 minutes after a cue triggers an emergency response and prepares birds to react quickly to the threat. However, regular exposure to the dangers of the wild and, hence, to high levels of this hormone, has serious health consequences and shortens life expectancy.Not all birds respond to stress in the same way, however, notes Daniel Sol an ornithologist at the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications in Cerdanyola del Vallès, Spain. He and colleagues have for years looked at the differences between big-brained birds, such as crows and parrots, and those with smaller brains, such as chickens and quails. 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Sol; Ádám Lendvai, an evolutionary biologist at the College of Nyíregyháza in Hungary; and colleagues scoured the avian research literature to find studies that had measured corticosterone levels in birds in varying situations. They found 189 reports published before 2010 with comparable corticosterone and whole brain mass measurements for 119 bird species. The analysis, reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, revealed that birds with large brains have lower circulating levels of the stress hormone, which rise only slightly in response to challenging situations, whereas these values can skyrocket in birds on the opposite end of the “brainy” scale.An enlarged brain might be costly to develop and maintain, but could increase the bird’s ability to face new challenges and cope with unpredictable situations. Higher cognitive skills “can be seen as an alternative mechanism to hormonal responses,” Sol explains. After all, he says, in multiple animal species “learning has long been associated with a reduction in stress.”However, the literature review leaves lots of questions unanswered. The ultimate goal is to “try to understand what might be the mechanism that lowers the stress response” in larger brained birds, says Michaela Hau of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Munich, Germany. It would be interesting to zoom in on a particular bird family, including species with different cognitive abilities, teach individuals a certain challenging task, and see if the bigger brained birds’ stress response is smaller, she says. Still, Hau says, Sol’s hypothesis “is a cool idea.”last_img read more

Go back to the enewsletter Aqua Expeditions has i

first_imgGo back to the e-newsletterAqua Expeditions has introduced a family travel promotion in response to the demand for more inspiring, educational and authentic travel experiences for children.Parents are constantly seeking new experiences for their children on holiday. Aqua Expeditions’ latest family activities have been tailored to take families on an unforgettable educational experience down the magnificent Mekong River on board its luxury all-suite vessel Aqua Mekong.To mark the launch of these family-friendly departures this May, Aqua Expeditions is offering an introductory promotion. Children between the age of seven and 12 years old will stay on board the Aqua Mekong for free when sharing with both parents in a triple cabin or accompanied by a single parent.Children can look forward to experiential learning experiences through cycling visits to local fishing villages where they will interact with the community, explore the wet markets, taste local specialities and participate in a special interactive cooking class with the chef. They will also be able to visit a religious mountain monastery for a blessing ceremony with resident Buddhist monks.Further activities and adventures include kayaking, fishing, and even outdoor movie screenings on the observation deck where guests enjoy family-friendly films. There is also an on board library, board games, and foosball table for children to enjoy. All families will have the opportunity to tailor their trip to participate in activities that interest them most.The minimum age to travel on the Aqua Mekong is seven years old. The child will need to share the cabin with his/her parents to be entitled to the promotion.The promotion is valid for departures 6 May to 12 August 2016 and 5 May to 11 August 2017 inclusive. Blackout dates are 24 May to 21 June 2016 and 2 June to 30 June 2017.Customers who meet all the conditions mentioned above but have already made a booking with Aqua Expeditions prior to this announcement will also be entitled to this promotion.Go back to the e-newsletterlast_img read more