Brain size and resource specialisation predict long-term population trends in British birds

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Large-scale population declines have been documented across many faunal assemblages. However, there is much variation in population trends for individual species, and few indications of which specific ecological and behavioural characteristics are associated with such trends. We used the British Common Birds Census (1968-1995) to identify specific traits associated with long-term abundance trends in UK farmland birds. Two factors, resource specialization and relative brain size, were significantly associated with population trend, such that species using atypical resources and with relatively small brains were most likely to have experienced overall declines. Further analyses of specific brain components indicated that the relative size of the telencephalon, the part of the brain associated with problem solving and complex behaviours, and the brain stem might be better predictors of population trend than overall brain size. These results suggest that flexibility in resource use and behaviour are the most important characteristics for determining a species' ability to cope with large-scale habitat changes.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2305-2311
Number of pages7
JournalRoyal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1578
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2005


  • brain architecture, behavioural flexibility, farmland birds, British Common Birds Census, niche position