Pigeons could offer insights to fight disease caused by water and air pollution

Pigeons may be seen as a burden in urban areas because of their unhygienic habits. Contrary to this, experts believe that they could be of use as they could provide insights to fight disease brought about by water and air pollution. This was based on a study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of California.

The research team aimed to determine if pigeons could identify areas which were high in lead pollution. Lead has been banned from products for decades as it adversely affects brain development. However, it is still present in the environment, especially in old painted street furniture, or children’s toys.

In conducting the study, the researchers analyzed the blood levels of pigeons and children living in New York between 2010 and 2015. The findings of the study revealed that both birds and humans living in the same neighborhoods showed similar patterns of lead in their blood. The current study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Austin, Texas.

Rebecca Calisi-Rodriguez, one of the researchers, believes that pigeons are the best tool for keeping a watch on dangerous pollutants because they depend on human waste and inhibit the same areas as city dwellers. Thus, they are also exposed to the same contaminants as people living in cities. Moreover, the team said that pigeons “walk on the same pavements, breathe the same air and eat the same food as humans.”

“Pigeons have existed for ages in close proximity to us, eating the same food, drinking and being exposed to the same water sources, soil, air, pollution,” said Calisi-Rodriguez, associate professor of neurobiology, physiology, and behavior of the University of California.

Calisi-Rodriguez added that humans and birds have a very similar evolutionary history. The bodies of humans and birds also have a lot of similarities in terms of tissue form and function. As a result, they could help find toxic areas in the environment as well as understand how toxic substances affect biology. (Related: Pigeons found to have startling ability to “build knowledge” almost like humans.)

“So as you see, what we learn in birds can have far-reaching implications,” she said.

This is not the only study that turns to pigeons for insights. In a study carried out by researchers in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, it was found that lead levels in the blood in pigeons are associated with the heaviness of traffic. Furthermore, a study in Brazil showed that pigeons in a large city have higher concentrations of lead, chromium, and cadmium in their feathers in comparison to those from a less developed city.

Are pigeons better multitaskers than humans?

As mentioned earlier, pigeons and humans have a lot of similarities. One of these is that pigeons can multitask as fast as humans, and in some cases, they are even better, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology. A team of researchers from the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany conducted similar behavioral tests on 15 humans and 12 pigeons. The study subjects were tasked to complete a multitasking exercise. First, the subjects to stop a current task and then switch to another task as fast as possible. The switching to the other task was done either at the same time the first task was stopped, or it was delayed by 300 milliseconds.

Results revealed that both humans and pigeons slowed down by the same amount under double stress in the first task. In the second task, pigeons were able to switch to the second task at approximately 250 milliseconds faster than humans. The researchers believe that this is due to the fact that pigeons have a shorter distance between two nerve cells; thus, information is processed more quickly compared with humans.

Find out more interesting news and studies about animals and their role in the ever-changing environment at Ecology.news.

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