Cognitive Capacity of Birds

28/09/2020

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Hermann Wagner

Institute of Biology II

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Researchers from RWTH Aachen University, Forschungszentrum Jülich, and the universities of Bochum and Düsseldorf publish article in Science.

 

Why are birds capable of demonstrating cognitive abilities that are comparable to those of dogs, cats, and even monkeys? For example, crows are skilled at plundering bins, tits can learn to open milk cans, and parrots are able to imitate human speech. A study by researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum, with participation of Professor Hermann Wagner from the RWTH Institute of Biology II, Forschungszentrum Jülich, and Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, helps to understand these extraordinary achievements of birds. The results have now been published in a article in the journal Science, titled "A cortex-like canonical circuit in the avian forebrain."

The advanced cognitive skills of mammals have been linked to the development of the cerebral cortex. However, some bird species show amazing cognitive abilities, although birds do not have a cerebral cortex, but a pallium, which is considered to be analogous to the cerebral cortex. An essential feature of the mammalian cortex is its layered architecture. In an anatomical study of the bird pallium, researchers now describe a similarly layered architecture, which is reminiscent of the cortex of mammals. This means that cognition in birds and humans is based on the same construction principle, despite 300 million years of independent evolution. In terms of bionics, this construction principle could serve as a model for engineering applications such as cognitive robotics.

Stacho M, Herold C, Rook N, Wagner H, Axer M, Amunts K, Güntürkün O. 2020. A cortex-like canonical circuit in the avian forebrain. Science 369: 1–12. doi:10.1126/science.abc5534