© National Geographic Society
Watch clever grackles solve a challenge
from Aesop's Fables
Read the story that goes with the video
© NY Times
The grackle's secret to success
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!
What is behavioral flexibility and is it responsible for species' invasion success?
Behavioral flexibility, the ability to adapt behavior to new environments and problems, is thought to play an important role in a species' ability to successfully invade. However, behavioral flexibility is rarely directly tested in invasive species in a way that would allow us to determine how it works and how we can make predictions about a species' ability to adapt their behavior to changing circumstances. 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. I found that they are behaviorally flexible and that flexibility is independent from problem solving ability, problem solving speed (Logan 2016a), other behaviors (Logan 2016b), and innovativeness (Logan 2016c), and that grackles can solve some problems with a similar efficiency to New Caledonian crows (Logan et al. 2014). 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, whereas crows have a large relative brain size. This research is opening a new field of determining how individuals can use behavior to adapt to environmental change.
Why does brain size vary in the wild?
If brain size does not predict cognitive ability, as I and others have found, then why do brain sizes vary? 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 found that social support after fights was not dependent on the social system of the species (rooks, jackdaws, and Eurasian jays) and it reduced rook postconflict aggression in a context dependent way (Logan et al. 2013a & 2013b). I discovered that adult male coati (a raccoon relative) behavior is flexible: in one population, adult males play with juveniles rather than prey on them (Logan & Longino 2013). I also hypothesized that birds that forage on animals fleeing from the front of army ant raids might have developed behavioral and cognitive adaptations for flexibly tracking the ants in space and time, making them a new system for investigating memory and future planning (Logan et al. 2011).
My commitment to conducting rigorous science
My goal is to ethically conduct and promote rigorous science. I avoid exploiting myself as a scientist, I facilitate equality and diversity by ensuring that no one is discriminated against when reading my scientific literature, and I keep funds in academia (see my paper and presentation for background). I use the mechanism of transparency to achieve my goal so anyone can evaluate my contributions at every step of the process. I only submit papers to 100% open access journals at ethical publishers, and I publish the review histories (when it is an option) and datasets (and usually also R code) that go with my papers. I only review and serve as an editor for articles at 100% open access journals at ethical publishers, and I sign my reviews. Occasionally, I may submit papers to or review articles for journals that are not 100% open access (but are at ethical publishers) as long as 1) the article will be made open access immediately upon publication (gold OA), and 2) the journal deducts article processing charges from library subscriptions so universities do not pay more than once for the same article. (Updated Nov 2016)
Early career researchers: Do you feel pressured into publishing in particular journals? SIGN to urge institutions to better support us
Shift academic culture through publishing choices. Gates press, F1000 blog
Preprint is out! Beyond Brain Size
Upcoming talk: The walls of my invisible box, Cambridge Graduate Union, 26 June, 5:30pm BST
Spoke at eLife Webinar How to make your voice heard
Is behavioural flexibility evidence of cognitive complexity? Gates press release
Wild red deer brain size is heritable; females with larger brains live longer, have more surviving offspring. Cambridge press, Science, New Scientist, Gates, Naked Scientists podcast
Eurasian jays don't copy conspecifics (video)
I co-organised OpenCon Cambridge 2016. Join OpenConCam for monthly meetings!
2016 Learning & Behavior Best Article Award: New Caledonian crows use social and personal information. UCSB press
Behavioral flexibility is not related to other behaviors. Press: UCSB, Gates. Interviews: Cambridge News, BBC Lunchtime Live (21 July, starts at 31:16)
Behavioral flexibility is not the same as innovativeness. Press: Cambridge, Gates, NY Times ScienceTake, Audubon, Curious Meerkat.
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
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 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)
New Caledonian crow vlog at Nat Geo Explorers Journal!