Distinct neural circuits underlie assessment of a diversity of natural dangers by American crows.Proc Biol Sci 2013; 280(1765):20131046PB
Social animals encountering natural dangers face decisions such as whether to freeze, flee or harass the threat. The American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, conspicuously mobs dangers. We used positron emission tomography to test the hypothesis that distinct neuronal substrates underlie the crow's consistent behavioural response to different dangers. We found that crows activated brain regions associated with attention and arousal (nucleus isthmo-opticus/locus coeruleus), and with motor response (arcopallium), as they fixed their gaze on a threat. However, despite this consistent behavioural and neural response, the sight of a person who previously captured the crow, a person holding a dead crow and a taxidermy-mounted hawk activated distinct forebrain regions (amygdala, hippocampus and portion of the caudal nidopallium, respectively). We suggest that aspects of mobbing behaviour are guided by unique neural circuits that respond to differences in mental processing-learning, memory formation and multisensory discrimination-required to appropriately nuance a risky behaviour to specific dangers.