How birds learn

Children are constantly learning new things, but whether they find it easy or hard to generalise what they have learned and apply it to new situations can depend on how they learned it. It is much the same for songbirds. In their first few months of life, they too must learn a great deal; for example, the characteristic song of their species. And like people, birds also learn in different ways. How these methods impact the ability to generalise was the subject of a study on zebra finches, conducted by a research team led by Richard Hahnloser, Professor at ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich.

Fairy-wrens learn alarm calls of other species just by listening

Birds often eavesdrop on the alarm calls of other species, making it possible for them to take advantage of many eyes looking out for danger. Now, researchers have found that fairy-wrens can learn those unfamiliar calls -- which they liken to a foreign language -- even without ever seeing the bird that made the call or the predator that provoked it. Instead, the birds in their study learned to recognize new alarm calls by listening for unfamiliar sounds within a chorus of familiar alarm calls, according to Science Daily.

"Alarm calls warn of predators, but here the birds learnt the meaning of the call from the alarm calls of others without needing to see the predator," says Robert Magrath of the Australian National University in Canberra. "This means it is a type of 'social learning,' where individuals learn from others rather than through direct experience. In this case, it's even more indirect, because they only need to hear and not see the birds giving the familiar alarm calls. So theoretically they could learn with their eyes closed!"

Can seagrass help fight ocean acidification?

Seagrass meadows could play a limited, localized role in alleviating ocean acidification in coastal ecosystems, according to Science Daily

When coal, oil, or gas is burned, the resulting carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere where it is the driving force behind global climate change. But this atmospheric carbon dioxide is also absorbed into the ocean where chemical reactions with the seawater produce carbonic acid, which is corrosive to marine life, particularly to organisms like mussels and oysters that construct their shells and exoskeletons out of calcium carbonate.

Great tit birds have as much impulse control as chimpanzees

Biologists at Lund University in Sweden have in a recent study shown that the great tit, a common European songbird, has a tremendous capacity for self-control. Up to now, such impulse control has been primarily associated with larger cognitively advanced animals with far larger brains than the great tit. According to the new results, the great tits' ability for self-control is almost the same as that of ravens and chimpanzees, according to Science Daily.

The biologists placed food in a small translucent cylinder. The great tits that started pecking at the cylinder to get to the food failed the test as the behaviour was considered an impulsive act. Those that, on the other hand, moved to an opening in the cylinder and thereby were able to access the food without pecking at the cylinder wall passed the test.

First mapping of global marine wilderness shows just how little remains

Researchers have completed the first systematic analysis of marine wilderness around the world. And what they found is not encouraging; only a small fraction -- about 13 percent -- of the world's ocean can still be classified as wilderness, according to Science Daily.

"We were astonished by just how little marine wilderness remains," says Kendall Jones. "The ocean is immense, covering over 70 percent of our planet, but we've managed to significantly impact almost all of this vast ecosystem."

On land, rapid declines in wilderness have been well documented. But much less was known about the status of marine wilderness. Wilderness areas are crucial for marine biodiversity.