Monday, October 8, 2012

Adaptation to human landscapes 1: clever crows

As humans increasingly dominate all regions of the Earth, animals and plants that can adapt to our presence (synanthropes) will like enhance their fitness.

I will highlight some of these groups or species, as well as their less fortunate counterparts that are particularly sensitive to human alteration of natural environments, either because they need a lot of area or a certain habitat or landscape feature to survive and breed.

A first synanthropic example, common to both temperate and tropical regions, is the crow family (crows, ravens, jays, etc -- called Corvids), which like pigeons (rock doves), live happily in human settlements in all continents except Antarctica. Writer Joshua Klein has even given an entertaining TED talk on crow intelligence and adaptability, with a call for us to work better with synanthropic species.


For a great description of the smarts and flexibility of corvids, have a look at this article in the the blog Endless Forms Most Beautiful.

To summarize some of the cool ways crow populations have exploited the presence of people:
  • they eat from our farms, dumps, and highways, eating trash or roadkill while avoiding human danger (i.e. scarecrows or passing cars)
  • they outsmart other animals (Youtube has a host of videos with smart crow tricks)
  • they make their own tools
  • they are smart! Crows and their relatives pass laboratory tests of self-recognition, recognition of individual human faces, flexible thinking, and overcoming of impulse to gain a greater, though delayed, reward.

The article is great and cites both fun amateur videos and scientific studies on corvids that demonstrate that crows are smarter than your average beast, and they've been hugely successful because of it.

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