While they can’t pick out precise numbers, animals can comprehend that more is, well, more. From birds to bees and wolves to frogs, animals use numbers to hunt, find a mate, return to their home, and more—and researchers believe that this ability to process and represent numbers, known as numerical competence, plays an important role in how animals make these decisions and influences an animal’s chance of survival. In a Review publishing March 30 in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Andreas Nieder, a neurobiologist at the University of Tuebingen, Germany, explores the current literature on how different animal species comprehend numbers and the impact on their survival, arguing that we won’t fully understand the influence of numerical competence unless we study it directly.
“Interestingly, we know now that numerical competence is present on almost every branch on the animal tree of life,” says Nieder, who works with different animal species to explore how trained animals discriminate and represent numbers as well as how numbers are represented in the brain. “Different groups of animals obviously developed this trait independently from other lineages and that strongly indicates that it has to be of adaptive value. So the capability to discriminate numbers has to have a strong survival benefit and reproduction benefit.” MORE
Header image: A crow counting. Credit: Andreas Nieder.