Birds learn to fly with a little help from their ancestors

Aug 14, 2007

A researcher at the University of Sheffield has discovered that the reason birds learn to fly so easily is because latent memories may have been left behind by their ancestors.

It is widely known that birds learn to fly through practice, gradually refining their innate ability into a finely tuned skill. However, according to Dr Jim Stone from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, these skills may be easy to refine because of a genetically specified latent memory for flying.

Dr Stone used simple models of brains called artificial neural networks and computer simulations to test his theory. He discovered that learning in previous generations indirectly induces the formation of a latent memory in the current generation and therefore decreases the amount of learning required. These effects are especially pronounced if there is a large biological 'fitness cost' to learning, where biological fitness is measured in terms of the number of offspring each individual has.

The beneficial effects of learning also depend on the unusual form of information storage in neural networks. Unlike computers, which store each item of information in a specific location in the computer's memory chip, neural networks store each item distributed over many neuronal connections. If information is stored in this way then evolution is accelerated, explaining how complex motor skills, such as nest building and hunting skills, are acquired by a combination of innate ability and learning over many generations.

Dr Stone said: “This new theory has its roots in ideas proposed by James Baldwin in 1896, who made the counter-intuitive argument that learning within each generation could guide evolution of innate behaviour over future generations. Baldwin was right, but in ways more subtle than he could have imagined because concepts such as artificial neural networks and distributed representations were not known in his time.”

Source: University of Sheffield

Explore further: Researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair

Related Stories

Autonomous robot Myon joins the cast at a Berlin opera

5 hours ago

"My Square Lady" last month opened in Berlin at the Komische Oper. The outstanding feature about this production is that a character named Myon plays a key role on stage, and Myon is a robot—of the white, ...

Machines learn to understand how we speak

Jun 12, 2015

At Apple's recent World Wide Developer Conference, one of the tent-pole items was the inclusion of additional features for intelligent voice recognition by its personal assistant app Siri in its most rec ...

Musio: Your AI friend in back-and-forth exchange

Jun 02, 2015

Many people have hardly reached saturation point in being drawn to videos of cute robots that avoid the uncanny-valley risk of looking uncomfortably human; instead they cross the lines between cute animal ...

Microsoft Research project can interpret, caption photos

May 29, 2015

If you're surfing the web and you come across a photo of the Mariners' Felix Hernandez on the pitchers' mound at Safeco Field, chances are you'll quickly interpret that you are looking at a picture of a baseball ...

Brain learning simulated via electronic replica memory

May 18, 2015

Scientists are attempting to mimic the memory and learning functions of neurons found in the human brain. To do so, they investigated the electronic equivalent of the synapse, the bridge, making it possible for neurons to ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair

Jul 03, 2015

The DNA molecule is chemically unstable giving rise to DNA lesions of different nature. That is why DNA damage detection, signaling and repair, collectively known as the DNA damage response, are needed.

The math of shark skin

Jul 03, 2015

"Sharks are almost perfectly evolved animals. We can learn a lot from studying them," says Emory mathematician Alessandro Veneziani.

Cuban, US scientists bond over big sharks

Jul 03, 2015

Somewhere in the North Atlantic right now, a longfin mako shark—a cousin of the storied great white—is cruising around, oblivious to the yellow satellite tag on its dorsal fin.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.