High temperatures are associated with reduced cognitive performance in wild southern pied babblers

Camilla Soravia, Benjamin J. Ashton, Alex Thornton, Amanda R. Ridley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


Global temperatures are increasing rapidly. While considerable research is accumulating regarding the lethal and sublethal effects of heat on wildlife, its potential impact on animal cognition has received limited attention. Here, we tested wild southern pied babblers (Turdoides bicolor) on three cognitive tasks (associative learning, reversal learning and inhibitory control) under naturally occurring heat stress and non-heat stress conditions. We determined whether cognitive performance was explained by temperature, heat dissipation behaviours, individual and social attributes, or proxies of motivation. We found that temperature, but not heat dissipation behaviours, predicted variation in associative learning performance. Individuals required on average twice as many trials to learn an association when the maximum temperature during testing exceeded 38°C compared with moderate temperatures. Higher temperatures during testing were also associated with reduced inhibitory control performance, but only in females. By contrast, we found no temperature-related decline in performance in the reversal learning task, albeit individuals reached learning criterion in only 14 reversal learning tests. Our findings provide novel evidence of temperature-mediated cognitive impairment in a wild animal and indicate that its occurrence depends on the cognitive trait examined and individual sex.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20231077
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of The Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Issue number2011
Early online date22 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • behavioural flexibility
  • climate change
  • cognition
  • heat stress
  • inhibitory control
  • learning


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