Australia is once again at war with the birds – but instead of trying to fight off emus in the outback, this time it’s a bit closer to home(s). The cockatoos of Sydney have taken the saying ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ to heart, and have taken to ‘dumpster diving’ in search of food. Although the challenge of keeping urban wildlife out of rubbish bins is not a uniquely ‘Australia problem’, finding a solution to thwart the brainy cockatoos is proving difficult. For every deterrent that humans come up with, the cockatoos seem to find a work-around – similar to the evolutionary arms race that we might expect between a predator and prey.
What makes this really cool is that it is essentially an ‘evolution in action’ scenario happening right in the backyards of Sydney residents! There are different strategies being deployed by both the humans (to deter the the cockatoos) and the cockatoos (to open the rubbish bins). These strategies have costs for both parties as well (how long it takes to secure the rubbish bin vs how long it takes to open) and we expect these strategies to experience different selection pressures that might lead to the selection of an optimal rubbish bin securing strategy (that is until the cockatoos work out how to thwart the humans once again).
I for one am rooting for the birds – if at minimum so that they can claim having defeated humans not once but twice!
Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.