, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 755-764
Date: 09 Feb 2013

Means–end comprehension in four parrot species: explained by social complexity

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Abstract

A comparative approach is required to investigate the evolutionary origins of cognitive abilities. In this paper, we compare the performance of four parrot species, spectacled parrotlets (Forpus conspicillatus), rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus), green-winged macaws (Ara chloroptera) and sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita triton) in standardized string-pulling and string-choice paradigms. We varied the spatial relationship between the strings, the presence of a reward and the physical contact between the string and the reward to test different cognitive skills requiring means–end comprehension. The species tested showed a high individual and inter-specific variation in their ability to solve the tasks. Spectacled parrotlets performed best among the four species and solved the most complex choice tasks, namely crossed-string task and broken-string task, spontaneously. In contrast, macaws and cockatoos failed to identify the correct string in these two tasks. The rainbow lorikeets were outperformed by the parrotlets, but outperformed in turn the macaws and the cockatoos. The findings can be best explained by the variation in social complexity among species, rather than in their ecology.

Ralf Wanker: Deceased 6 September 2011. Dr. Ralf Wanker passed away before the final acceptance of the paper.