Mind Over Matter
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Past research has shown that human-made noise pollution is making it harder for animals to behave naturally, including communicating with each other, foraging and reproducing.
Urban-dwelling Australian magpies are not excluded from this impact, but scientists recently found evidence that smarter birds are better at handling the hustle and bustle of the city, Psychology Today reported.
In a new paper, a research team studied how differences in cognitive abilities affect individual responses to noise in a population of Australian magpies living in Perth, Western Australia.
The research involved observing 75 magpies in the presence of human-made noise, conducting playback experiments with alarm calls, and administering a cognitive test.
Their findings showed that loud noises – such as traffic and planes – altered the birds’ behavior, making them forage less and be more vigilant. Specifically, plane noise made it harder for magpies to respond to their alarm call used to warn others of predators.
However, the team noticed that avians that performed better in cognitive tests were able to properly respond to the alarm calls, regardless of the cacophony.
This means that smarter birds have fewer difficulties in overcoming the adverse effects of noise pollution.
“This is the first time that cognition has been linked to the ability of an animal to deal with human-made noise and it shows that cognition may be able to help animals respond to environmental change,” said lead author Grace Blackburn.
Blackburn and her colleagues are still not clear on the mechanism – or mechanisms – that allow magpies to handle the noise.
Even so, she explained that the study can help us understand how cognition in other animals allows them to adapt to human-induced environmental changes.