© National Geographic Society
Watch clever grackles solve a challenge
from Aesop's Fables
Read the story that goes with the video
© Corina Logan
Meet Tequila's fan club
© Corina Logan
Meet Charlie (female), our first banded great-tailed grackle!
Why do brains differ?
The assumption that only large-brained species are capable of complex cognition is pervasive, and likely resulted in the bias toward sampling complex cognition in large-brained species. Investigating complex cognition in smaller-brained species is necessary to understand whether this assumption is correct. Further, it is unknown what selection pressures drive brain size variation in the wild, which is crucial for understanding the meaning of this measure.
What is behavioral flexibility and how does it work?
I use great-tailed grackles (a bird species) as a model to study this question because they are one of the most invasive species in North America, and invasion success is predicted to indicate behavioral flexibility. I found that behavioral flexibility, the ability to change preferences based on learning from previous experience, is independent from problem solving ability and problem solving speed, and that grackles can solve some problems with a similar efficiency to New Caledonian crows (Logan et al. 2014, Logan 2016). These results also contradict the hypothesis that behavioral flexibility should correlate with brain size (relative to body size) because grackles have an average sized brain for a bird. This research is opening a new field of understanding how individuals can use behavior to adapt to environmental change.
Why does brain size vary in the wild?
I have a unique opportunity examine what social, ecological, and genetic factors influence endocranial volume (a proxy for brain size) variation in a long-term dataset of over 1,300 red deer that lived on the Isle of Rum in Scotland. As individuals in the study died over the past 40+ years, their skulls were kept, providing extensive data for each specimen and making it possible to answer previously inaccessible questions about the heritability of endocranial volume in the wild.
My past research examined the influence of sociality on behavior, namely that sociality influences how three species of corvid (birds in the crow family) support each other after fights: even the less social species use social support, though they get support from anyone while the more social species interact with their mate after fights (Logan et al. 2013a & 2013b). I highlighted population differences in social coatis (a raccoon relative) by finding that, in one population, adult males play with juveniles rather than prey on them (Logan & Longino 2013). I also hypothesized that the unique ecology of birds that follow army ants could influence their cognition, making them a new system for investigating memory and future planning (Logan et al. 2011).
Great-tailed grackles are behaviorally flexible and solve Aesop's Fable tests! UCSB press, Nat Geo video
Scrub-jays fail Aesop's Fable experiments
I blogged at She Talks Science
New Caledonian crows use social and personal information. UCSB press
I hosted Ask Me Anything on PLOS Science
Measuring grackle skulls with calipers does NOT accurately predict endocranial volume. Interview, press release
Are grackles the most amazing animals? Grackles vs geckos on BBC's Dotty McLeod (starts at 1h:54m). Grackles vs 6 others on Naked Scientists (grackles at 23:12) and 5live Science (grackles at 35:04)
New Caledonian crows discriminate between water volumes: UCSB news, Nat Geo blog, interviews: Futureproof (starts at 25:20), Moncrieff show (starts at 36:52)
I'm quoted in MacLean's Don't call them bird brains
Need to study the whole brain to know if non-humans imagine themselves in the past and future
New Caledonian crow vlog at Nat Geo Explorers Journal!
UCSB grackle interview
Got a National Geographic Society / Waitt Grant! Gates Cambridge news