Environmental influences on neuromorphology in the non-native starling, Sturnus vulgaris

A Cardilini, S. Micallef, Valerie Bishop, CDH Sherman, Simone Meddle, KL Buchanan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cognitive traits are predicted to be under intense selection in animals moving into new environments, and may determine the success or otherwise of dispersal and invasions. In particular, spatial information related to resource distribution is an important determinant of neural development. Spatial information is predicted to vary for invasive species encountering novel environments. However, few studies have tested how cognition or neural development vary intra specifically within an invasive species. In Australia, the non-native common starling, Sturnus vulgaris, inhabits a range of habitats that vary in seasonal resource availability and distribution. We aimed to identify variation in brain mass and hippocampus volume of starlings in Australia related to environmental variation across two substantially different habitat types. Specifically, we predicted variation in brain mass and hippocampal volume in relation to environmental conditions; latitude and climatic variables. To test this, brain mass and volumes of the hippocampus and two control brain regions (telencephalon and tractus septomesencephalicus) were quantified from starling brains gathered from across the species’ range in SE Australia. When comparing across an environmental gradient, there was a significant interaction between sex and environment for overall brain mass, with greater sexual dimorphism in brain mass in inland populations, compared to those at the coast . There was no significant difference in hippocampal volume in relation to environmental measures (N = 17 hippocampus volume), for either sex. Whilst these data provide no evidence for intraspecific environmental drivers for changes in hippocampus volume in European starlings in Australia, they do suggest environmental factors contribute to sex differences in brain mass. This study identifies associations between brain volume of a non-native species and environment; further work in this area is required to elucidate the mechanisms driving this relationship.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-70
JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
Issue number1-2
Early online date13 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


  • starling
  • brain
  • avian hippocampus,
  • bird
  • telencephalon
  • spatial memory
  • invasive species,
  • ecology


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