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Comparative analysis of classic brain component sizes in relation to flightiness in birds

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journal contribution
posted on 2014-03-01, 00:00 authored by Matthew SymondsMatthew Symonds, Mike WestonMike Weston, R Robinson, Patrick GuayPatrick Guay
Increased encephalization has been linked to a range of behavioural traits and scenarios. However, studies of whole brain size in this context have been criticised for ignoring the role of specific brain areas in controlling behaviour. In birds, the response to potential threats is one such behaviour that may relate to the way in which the brain processes sensory information. We used a phylogenetic generalised least squares (PGLS) analyses, based on five different phylogenetic hypotheses, to analyse the relationship of relative sizes of whole brain and brain components with Flight-Initiation Distance (FID), the distance at which birds flee from an approaching human, for 41 bird species. Starting distance (the distance at which an approach to a bird commences), body mass and eye size have elsewhere been shown to be positively associated with FID, and consequently were included as covariates in our analysis. Starting distance and body mass were by far the strongest predictors of FID. Of all brain components, cerebellum size had the strongest predictor weight and was negatively associated with FID but the confidence intervals on the average estimate included zero and the overall predictor weight was low. Models featuring individual brain components were generally more strongly weighted than models featuring whole brain size. The PGLS analyses estimated there to be no phylogenetic signal in the regression models, and hence produced results equivalent to ordinary least squares regression analysis. However analyses that assumed strong phylogenetic signal produced substantially different results with each phylogeny, and overall suggest a negative relationship between forebrain size and FID. Our analyses suggest that the evolutionary assumptions of the comparative analysis, and consideration of starting distance make a profound difference to the interpretation of the effect of brain components on FID in birds.



PLoS one






Article number : e91960


1 - 8


Public Library of Science


San Francisco, California





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2014, Public Library of Science