Big brains, enhanced cognition and response of birds to novel environment

D Sol, RP Duncan, Timothy Blackburn, Phillip Cassey, L Lefebvre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

556 Citations (Scopus)


The widely held hypothesis that enlarged brains have evolved as an adaptation to cope with novel or altered environmental conditions lacks firm empirical support. Here, we test this hypothesis for a major animal group (birds) by examining whether large-brained species show higher survival than small-brained species when introduced to normative locations. Using a global database documenting the outcome of >600 introduction events, we confirm that avian species with larger brains, relative to their body mass, tend to be more successful at establishing themselves in novel environments. Moreover, we provide evidence that larger brains help birds respond to novel conditions by enhancing their innovation propensity rather than indirectly through noncognitive mechanisms. These findings provide strong evidence for the hypothesis that enlarged brains function, and hence may have evolved, to deal with changes in the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5460-65
Number of pages6
JournalNational Academy of Sciences. Proceedings
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2005


  • environmental change
  • phenotypic flexibility
  • brain evolution


Dive into the research topics of 'Big brains, enhanced cognition and response of birds to novel environment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this