Do you have brain fog?  So do all these animals

Do you have brain fog? So do all these animals

Crows are known to solve puzzles and use tools to obtain food.

When bees are sick, their reflexes suffer. Presented with a drop of liquid, the sick insects do not stretch their trunks as quickly to inspect it as when they are not sick. Similarly, sick rats take longer to navigate an underwater maze than healthy rats, songbirds don’t learn as many tunes, and crows are less likely to solve puzzles when under the weather.

It’s a trend across the animal kingdom: in all taxa, wild animals seem to lose cognitive capacity when they suffer from infections and in the aftermath of an illness, according to an new review study published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

Scientists have scrutinized existing research on animal cognition and found that disease could play a greater role in animals’ ability to navigate the world than previously thought, and in many different ways. They also found big holes in our knowledge of how getting sick affects the functioning of animals.

“There is actually very little information about how disease affects cognition in wildlife. The aim of our review was to bring all these studies together and look for patterns,” said lead researcher, Andrea Townsendin an email to Gizmodo. Townsend is a behavioral ecologist at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. “We are seeing an accelerated emergence of all these infectious diseases, and yet we know very little about how disease can affect cognition and its implications for wildlife,” she added.

The rationale for the review was twofold. Townsend and her team recently finished a study of american crows, which showed that sick birds were apparently worse at problem solving. She had wanted to compare her research with other findings out there, but she found that comparable studies were scarce. Then there was c . of courseovid-19.

Townsend pointed out that the issue of illness and cognition is: very topical for people amid the ongoing pandemic. “I think almost all co-authors or our friends or families got Covid at some point in the writing process. For example, we became personally interested in questions such as ‘what is brain fog?’, ‘why do we get it?’, ‘how long does it take?’, ‘can other infections cause it?’, [and] “Do other types get brain fog when they’re sick?” she said. “We learned a lot about the answers to these questions while writing the review.”

Aside from the current pandemic, it is increasingly important to understand how disease impairs animal cognition as climate change and other human environmental impacts worsen. We both drive at the same time the risk of certain infections and what is at stake for species that are difficult to adapt. If the review say, “If disease and other factors related to habitat degradation together suppress the cognitive abilities of wildlife, their ability to respond appropriately to environmental changes could be diminished.”

Wait a minute, do bees think?

Virtually every multicellular animal, even the smallest invertebrates, takes in information about its environment, stores that information, and acts accordingly. In other words, “all animals are cognitive”, explained Alex Thorntona biologist studying cognitive evolution at the University of Exeter in the UK who was not involved in the new research, in a video call with Gizmodo.

He cited the example of nematodes, which have only about 300 neurons, but are “capable of habituation and associative learning.” Even sponges, which have no formal nervous system, still seem to be busy with their environment, regulating their filter feeding and avoiding infection through cellular communication.

How does disease cause brain fog?

One of the main things Townsend and her co-researchers noted in their study was that there are many different ways that disease can affect cognition in both humans and wildlife.

Some diseases directly infect the nervous system and cause damage. For example, meningitis in people, West Nile Virus in birds, or Ebola in both people and non-human primates. There is even a subcategory of pathogens that specifically target and alter their host’s behavior to drive their spread, such as the nightmare that is Toxoplasmosis.

But then there are also the numerous, indirect ways in which disease can hinder smarts. If a stomach flu causes diarrhea, a side effect is that the sick host – animal or human –does not absorb as much food of food. Fewer nutrients means less energy for the brain and body to run on. Malnutrition has short-term consequences but also long-term consequences for all species. A study of wasps found that just a single day of eating substandard food led to a life with worse memories.

A host’s own immune system can further cause cognitive problems by causing inflammation in the nervous system. Or through the series of cascading behavioral effects that evoke the desire for tranquility above all else. Those sick crows Townsend studied were less likely to successfully pull a string for a food reward than their healthy counterparts. If they had everythingheir apparent brain capacity, the sick birds would theoretically understand that completing a simple task of getting food would be a net gain. Instead, the sick crows often didn’t even try — the disease seemed to leave them unmotivated.

Why does it matter?

Rest when sick usual best do, bTo survive, humans and other animals must do more than just rest. And for most species on Earth, survival becomes more difficult.

As climate change and other human-induced environmental changes continue, the question of how animals adapt and adapt to the world is becoming increasingly important. “We know that humans cause substantial changes in the environment, and cognition is what allows animals to track and respond to changes,” Thornton said. “And so, if parasites and pathogens affect the ability of animals to do that, then that could potentially have major implications for animal populations.”

Plus, bring climate change and habitat destruction new diseases to new places. People and animals are confronted with pathogens that they have never encountered before. And, as with covid-19, the lack of initial immunity will make these diseases particularly dangerous.

Townsend further noted that stressour animals are more likely to get sick. “So here you might have a snowball effect where animals in stressed environments are more likely to get sick and have their cognitive abilities compromised. Then they’re less able to cope with these stressful, changing environments because of their diminished cognitive abilities. could increase the cost of environmental change for some wildlife.”

But to understand those real costs, more research is needed. Townsend sees the review study more as a starting point than a definitive statement, and she has many lingering questions she’d like to explore. For example, how does disease-affecting cognition affect animals’ ability to reproduce? How are entire animal communities affected? What are the long-long-term consequences of lost brain power? And do animals evolve in response?

However, a little silver lining is that covid-19 has brought these questions to the fore. “The fact that we’ve personally experienced these things makes them more striking,” Thornton said. Now, with brain fog in our minds, “it’s more likely that people will start thinking about and recognizing these issues.”

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