The Loh Down On Science

Bird Brains

Can global warming affect ... your IQ?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying it can if you’re a chickadee.

Meet Cody Freas, from the University of Nevada. He caught black-capped chickadees at different elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Back at the lab, he imaged their brains and challenged them to mental tasks like Hide And Seek The Sunflower Seed.

In a, uh, nutshell? Birds from the highest elevations--which have the coldest climates--had more brains! Literally more neurons--to the tune of twice as many as their neighbors living just 600 yards lower. And all of them were associated with memory. Indeed, the brainiacs outperformed their brethren in the hunger games, showing better short and long-term spatial memory.

What gives? Cold is harsh. There’s less food. Birds have to think fast, remember what’s where. Only smartypants survive and populate the next generation.

In sum, climate affects cognition.

So if other animals are equally affected, global warming should ... Yep, create a world of dodos. Great! We know the way that went.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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