Food stealing in birds: brain or brawn?

Morand-Ferron J., Sol D., Lefebvre L. (2007) Food stealing in birds: brain or brawn?. Animal Behaviour. 74: 1725-1734.
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Doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.04.031

Resum:

Kleptoparasitism, the stealing of food items already procured by others, is a widespread foraging strategy in animals, yet the reasons why some taxa have evolved this strategy and others have not remain unresolved. It has been hypothesized that kleptoparasitism should be more profitable, and hence have more often evolved, in lineages featuring certain characteristics, such as a large body mass, an enlarged brain or a dependence on vertebrate prey. Alternatively, the evolution of kleptoparasitism could have been facilitated in certain ecological contexts, such as open habitats or mixed-species foraging groups. Here, we test these hypotheses for the evolution of food stealing with a comparative analysis in birds, using information on 856 field reports of interspecific kleptoparasitism from all over the world. In multivariate analyses controlling for common ancestry, the probability that a family uses kleptoparasitism was positively associated with residual size of the brain, habitat openness and the presence of vertebrate prey in the diet, but showed no association with body size or participation in mixed-species foraging groups. The conclusion that kleptoparasitism is associated more closely with cognition than with aggression is further supported by the finding that kleptoparasites have a larger residual brain size than their respective hosts, while their body size is not significantly larger. By emphasizing the central role of cognitive abilities in avian kleptoparasitism, our results offer a novel perception of avian food stealing, which in the past was primarily seen in terms of 'brawn' rather than 'brains'. © 2007 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

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Big-brained birds survive better in nature.

Sol D., Székely T., Liker A., Lefebvre L. (2007) Big-brained birds survive better in nature.. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society. 274: 763-769.
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Doi: 10.1098/rspb.2006.3765

Resum:

Big brains are hypothesized to enhance survival of animals by facilitating flexible cognitive responses that buffer individuals against environmental stresses. Although this theory receives partial support from the finding that brain size limits the capacity of animals to behaviourally respond to environmental challenges, the hypothesis that large brains are associated with reduced mortality has never been empirically tested. Using extensive information on avian adult mortality from natural populations, we show here that species with larger brains, relative to their body size, experience lower mortality than species with smaller brains, supporting the general importance of the cognitive buffer hypothesis in the evolution of large brains.

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