© Corina Logan
Meet Tequila's fan club
© Corina Logan
Meet Charlie (female), our first tagged 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.
Why are smaller-brained great-tailed grackles (a bird species) highly behaviorally flexible?
I established a field site in Santa Barbara, California to investigate the mechanisms underlying avian behavioral flexibility. Grackles are an ideal model system for studying behavioral flexibility because they are one of the most invasive species in North America, but they have a smaller brain and fewer innovations than predicted by their high level of invasiveness. I compare non-innovative great-tailed grackles who have an average relative brain size (corrected for body size) with innovative, relatively large-brained New Caledonian crows (Logan et al. 2014) to examine whether a species' innovation frequency and relative brain size correlate with behavioral flexibility.
What makes a large braincase 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 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!
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