Brain Size and the Risk of Getting Shot

Some humans are always hunting for thoughts about their brains. Some humans are always hunting for birds. Sometimes, as in a newly published research study, these sometimes occurrences combine in provocative ways. The study is:

Brain Size and the Risk of Getting Shot,” Anders Pape Møller, Johannes Erritzøe, Biology Letters, vol. 12, no. 11, November 2, 2016: 20160647.

The authors, at Université Paris-Saclay, France and at House of Bird Research, Denmark, explain:

“We hypothesized that hunted individuals differing from survivors by having better ability to distinguish between dangerous humans and other human beings would be at a selective advantage. We tested whether shot individual birds had smaller brains than survivors, under the assumption that individuals with larger brains had superior escape ability. We used a large database on birds from Denmark to test whether getting shot was predicted by brain mass, while controlling statistically for the potentially confounding effects of age, sex, body mass and body condition. Analyses based on all species, or only species that were hunted, while controlling for differences in sampling effort in random effects models, showed consistently that shot individuals had smaller brains than survivors.”

The researchers report a mass of conflicting results that can provoke delightedly heated arguments: “A total of 299 (7.9%) out of 3781 birds were shot. Among these 3781 birds, brain mass was on average 2.99 g (s.e. = 0.05), range 0.23–19.96 g, and body mass was 260.71 g (8.89), range 4.16–13 000 g. Whether an individual was shot or not was related to brain mass (individual birds with smaller brains being shot more often), body mass (larger individuals being shot more often) and sex (higher probability in males)…


The researchers also report on their own ethics: “This study required no ethical permit, because all data were retrieved from the professional activities of J.E., a professional taxidermist. All specimens were dead when he received them, and they were supplied by his customers.”

(Thanks to Berry Pinshow for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: A January, 2007 report, by Brandan Borrell, in The Scientist Magazine, about the lead author of this study:

A Fluctuating Reality

A Fluctuating Reality Accused of fraud, Anders Pape Möller has traveled from superstar evolutionary biologist to pariah….