Crow brainpower study saved from Brexit cuts after appeal raises £ 500,000 | Research funding

Nicola Clayton’s cognitive research work is set to soar again. The Cambridge scientist’s center for studying the minds of crows, rooks and jays has been saved after the Observer revealed funding cuts were threatening it with closure.

A public appeal has since raised more than £ 500,000, while Cambridge University has also stepped in to boost support for the Comparative Cognition Laboratory, based in the village of Madingley.

The laboratory is currently home to seven rooks and 25 jays, members of the crow – or corvidae – family, birds noted for their keen intelligence, researchers have discovered. They have sophisticated social lives and can make tools, a skill that was previously thought to be possessed only by humans and a few other mammals.

“Our work has demonstrated that they are startlingly clever and has been providing important insights into the nature of cognition in general,” Clayton told the Observer.

“However, our main source of funding came from the European Research Council, a grant that came to an end after the UK voted for Brexit. We were facing the imminent prospect of closure. It was horrible. “

After the center’s predicament was revealed in the Observer in May, Clayton was able to launch an appeal which, with extra aid from Cambridge University, means the center should be able to continue its groundbreaking work for at least another five years and, hopefully, longer if further funds can be raised.

“There are so many things that we still want to learn about jays and rooks,” said Clayton. “We have shown that a jay can remember the what, where and when of a specific event. But we don’t know if it is aware it is the owner and author of a memory in the way that you and I are aware.

“We can do that because we can chat to one another about what that shared memory means. We need to find ways to determine what memory means to a bird like a jay. “

Clayton said it was also not known why jays and rooks were so conspicuously intelligent compared with other birds. “They don’t use tools in the wild, but give them a problem in captivity that requires a tool to solve it, and they will use it – or they will make one if it is not provided.”

A crucial factor involved in the evolution of these avian Einsteins could be the fact that they are highly social creatures, she said. “Maintaining links with other members of their species could be important in developing their intelligence.

“It is another aspect of our research that we can continue with now that we have the funds to proceed. It is very heartening. “

Individual crows also behave in very different ways, Clayton said. “They have behavioral mannerisms that we would view as personality differences if we were talking about people. We have timid ones and we have bold ones, and we have some that are real charmers – like Romero, who makes the sound of blowing a kiss when he confronts you.

Alternatively, we have Hoy, who looks like he’s about to punch your lights out in a minute. They are fascinating creatures, and the fact that so many other people find them intriguing – to judge from the letters of support we have had from the public – makes it all the happier to be able to continue our research. “

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button