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: Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The welding system of the future is self-learning

Mar 20, 2015

Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) is developing an entirely new kind of welding system, one which solves quality and productivity problems related to automated and mechanised welding. The system ...

Facebook artificial intelligence team serves up 20 tasks

Mar 05, 2015

In August last year, Daniela Hernandez wrote in Wired about Yann LeCun, director of AI Research at Facebook. His interests include machine learning, audio, video, image, and text understanding, optimization, computer architecture and software for AI. ...

Intermediary neuron acts as synaptic cloaking device

Feb 26, 2015

Neuroscientists believe that the connectome, a map of each and every connection between the millions of neurons in the brain, will provide a blueprint that will allow them to link brain anatomy to brain function. ...

Recommended for you

Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows

15 hours ago

Food manufacturers and restaurants are taking the dairy industry by the horns on an animal welfare issue that's long bothered activists but is little known to consumers: the painful removal of budding horn ...

Italian olive tree disease stumps EU

Mar 27, 2015

EU member states are divided on how to stop the spread of a disease affecting olive trees in Italy that could result in around a million being cut down, officials said Friday.

China starts relocating endangered porpoises: Xinhua

Mar 27, 2015

Chinese authorities on Friday began relocating the country's rare finless porpoise population in a bid to revive a species threatened by pollution, overfishing and heavy traffic in their Yangtze River habitat, ...

A long-standing mystery in membrane traffic solved

Mar 27, 2015

In 2013, James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, and Thomas C. Südhof won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular machineries for vesicle trafficking, a major transport ...

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.