From our lengthy lives to our social expertise and even language, zoologist Antone Martinho-Truswell argues that we’re extra like birds than we expect
9 March 2022
EVOLUTION has created a living world of jaw-dropping diversity. It has additionally generated what look like astonishing coincidences. The pangolins of Africa and armadillos of South America, for example, seem like shut cousins. In truth, every is extra carefully associated to people than to one another. Their similarity arises as a result of they independently advanced near-identical methods to deal with the identical type of environmental challenges.
This is only one instance of what’s often known as convergent evolution, however there are a lot of others, and never all of them are really easy to identify. Take people and birds: few readers will probably be instantly gained over by Sydney-based zoologist Antone Martinho-Truswell’s claims that we’re “like a surprisingly featherless chook”, and that now we have extra in widespread with birds than with our mammalian cousins.
By the point I completed The Parrot in the Mirror, although, I discovered that concept each compelling and cheap. Martinho-Truswell explores the traits shared by people and birds, from our uncommon longevity to our superior social expertise, from our parenting types to our intelligence and even using language. These, he argues, are all examples of convergent evolution.
Briefly, his argument goes like this: as soon as birds might fly, they might elude nearly all predators. Since they had been now much less prone to be eaten in any given 12 months, they might stay longer and produce extra offspring. With longevity got here the chance and the necessity to develop elevated intelligence. It is a bonus for long-living animals to be sensible as a result of it helps them to outlive lengthy sufficient to boost their younger to maturity. What’s extra, as a result of longer improvement requires a much bigger egg and a much bigger yolk sac, and since an egg can solely get so large if its mom is to fly, most birds hatch out very immature, helpless younger. Chicks require huge quantities of care, usually supplied by pair-bonded parents, and generally supplemented by a bigger neighborhood. This favours the evolution of complicated social behaviour and communication.
Martinho-Truswell argues that the human evolutionary story is a warped mirror picture of this. Our story begins, not with flight, however with communal behaviour amongst primates, which promoted the evolution of intelligence and social behaviour. This decreased the chance of predation, and longevity adopted, boosting intelligence to the purpose the place big-brained human younger need to be born immature and helpless in order not to endanger their mothers’ lives during childbirth.
So, the argument goes, people and birds advanced measurable intelligence in response to comparable challenges. However how can we evaluate our skills?
On this regard, Martinho-Truswell does properly to strike a steadiness between precision and creativeness. On the one hand, a duckling’s ability to identify its mother shortly after the moment of its start places it properly forward of chimpanzees, parrots, pigeons, crows and even human kids. However this one hardwired means doesn’t essentially make the duckling extra clever.
“People and birds advanced intelligence in response to comparable challenges. However how can we evaluate skills?”
Then again, it will be a uninteresting observer certainly that didn’t see fairly staggering proof of superior cognition in Irene Pepperberg’s 30-year research of language use in Alex, an African gray parrot. The chook not solely answered questions, he requested them, too. And he obtained irritated if individuals gave him foolish solutions.
Containing the complexities of convergent evolution in an easy narrative isn’t straightforward. Evolutionary causes and results don’t observe one another in neat, storybook trend, and there may be all the time the temptation, studying this ebook, to take Martinho-Truswell’s acts of narrative shorthand at face worth and suppose that people, 50 million years behind parrots within the evolution of intelligence, in some way turned extra human by truly mimicking their distant avian cousins.
Clearly that isn’t the case. However maybe it’s higher to be barely misled by a gripping story than to be bludgeoned by a uninteresting one. Martinho-Truswell has written an excellent introduction to a surprisingly complicated subject of research. Having learn it, you gained’t have a look at your self within the mirror in fairly the identical method.
Extra on these subjects: