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Environmental influences on neuromorphology in the non-native starling Sturnus vulgaris

journal contribution
posted on 01.12.2018, 00:00 authored by Adam CardiliniAdam Cardilini, Sarah Micallef, Valerie R Bishop, Craig ShermanCraig Sherman, Simone L Meddle, Kate BuchananKate Buchanan
Cognitive traits are predicted to be under intense selection in animals moving into new environments and may determine the success, or otherwise, of dispersal and invasions. In particular, spatial information related to resource distribution is an important determinant of neural development. Spatial information is predicted to vary for invasive species encountering novel environments. However, few studies have tested how cognition or neural development varies intraspecifically within an invasive species. In Australia, the non-native common starling Sturnus vulgaris inhabits a range of habitats that vary in seasonal resource availability and distribution. We aimed to identify variations in the brain mass and hippocampus volume of starlings in Australia related to environmental variation across two substantially different habitat types. Specifically, we predicted variation in brain mass and hippocampal volume in relation to environmental conditions, latitude, and climatic variables. To test this, brain mass and volumes of the hippocampus and two control brain regions (telencephalon and tractus septomesencephalicus) were quantified from starling brains gathered from across the species' range in south eastern Australia. When comparing across an environmental gradient, there was a significant interaction between sex and environment for overall brain mass, with greater sexual dimorphism in brain mass in inland populations compared to those at the coast. There was no significant difference in hippocampal volume in relation to environmental measures (hippocampus volume, n = 17) for either sex. While these data provide no evidence for intraspecific environmental drivers for changes in hippocampus volume in European starlings in Australia, they do suggest that environmental factors contribute to sex differences in brain mass. This study identifies associations between the brain volume of a non-native species and the environment; further work in this area is required to elucidate the mechanisms driving this relationship.



Brain, behavior and evolution






63 - 70


Karger Publishers


Basel, Switzerland







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal; C Journal article

Copyright notice

2018, The Author(s)