When it comes to endangerment status, big-brained mammals may have a higher risk of extinction, according to a new study.
Eric Abelson, author of the study and a research wildlife biologist at the Pacific Southwest Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service, said that mammalian species alive today – that have larger brain sizes – are more likely to become extinct, even though for the past 40 million years the opposite trend was seen in carnivore species.
In the new study – published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B – Abelson looked at the relationship between endangerment status and brain size in 1679 animals that represented 160 different mammal species.
The results showed that the likelihood of mammals with larger brains relative to their body size to become vulnerable, near threatened, threatened, endangered, and critically endangered was a lot higher, compared with those that had smaller brains relative to their overall body mass, according to Abelson.
For instance, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis), which has a large relative brain size, as near threatened. The Channel Island fox (Urocyon littoralis) also has a large brain size, and yet is now near threatened. Another mammal with a big brain, the tiger cat (Leopardus tigrinus), is listed as being near threatened, Abelson said.
The Cozumel raccoon, also known as the pygmy raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus), an animal native to Cozumel Island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, is listed as critically endangered.
However, Abelson also noted that the correlation between endangerment status and relative brain size is not as strong for mammals that are very large.
A previous study conducted by Daniel Sol of the Spanish National Research Council, showed that that bird species with big brains relative to their overall body size had greater survival skills, compared with smaller brained birds.
According to Sol, larger brains helped bids adapt to changes in the environment. They were more innovative and responded better to new conditions, he added.
Nowadays, a lot of mammals appear to be overwhelmed by the rate at which everything changes in their environment, which slows their ability to react and adapt. Only time will tell is even our own species will be able to cope with the rapid climate change.
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