Sophisticated social network to crow about
Wild crows have the kind of strong social network that Facebook users could only dream of – and that could be how they learn so quickly to make and use complex tools to find food.
That is the revelation from a study by a group of scientists, including some from Bath University, who used high-tech electronic tags on a huge community of crows – known as a “murder” of crows – to see just how they interact.
Scientists have long been baffled by the way clever crows seem to learn so quickly from each other. The birds have long been known to select and fashion tools to help them forage for food, but researchers had little clue how, when one crow solved a problem or made a new kind of tool, the knowledge of how to do it spread to other crows so fast.
The team of researchers fitted the crows with little backpacks that not only transmitted signals to show the scientists where the birds went, but also received signals and responded to each other, so they could tell which other crows they interacted with and for how long. It was the first time anything like this had been done, and the results astounded the scientists.
Limited Deal. All day wedding photography only £545.00View details
All day wedding photography only £545.00
From Bridal preparations to first dance.
250+ Hi Res images on disc with full printing rights.
Professional photography at affordable prices.
Free no obligation consultations.
Offer subject to availability.
Book before 31st May 2013.
Available in Bath, Bristol and surrounding areas.
Contact: 01225 439257
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Dr Richard James, a physicist at the University of Bath, was one of those who crunched the data when it was sent to him from the birds’ backpacks, all the way from the Scotland.
He said it was the first time it was possible to accurately plot the complex interactions of any kind of birds, and provided a fascinating insight into the social network.
“These tags produce the kind of information theoretical biologists have been waiting for,” he said. “Datasets in our field are usually quite sparse, because of the difficulty of observing wild animals.”
He added that the technology is likely to “revolutionise” the fast-moving field of animal social network analysis.
“In this study, we have been able to look at association patterns minute by minute, building an unusually comprehensive picture of these birds’ social lives,” said Dr John Burt, from the University of Washington, who invented the technology with Professor Brian Otis. “It was fantastic for us to see these tags being deployed on wild animals. The technology worked beautifully and generated some fascinating new insights into the biology of these remarkable birds.”
The next step, the scientists say, will be to investigate whether social transmission of information actually takes place during encounters.