Short Communication

Animal Cognition

pp 1-5

First online:

Antarctic skuas recognize individual humans

  • Won Young LeeAffiliated withDivision of Polar Life Sciences, Korea Polar Research Institute Email author 
  • , Yeong-Deok HanAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, College of Natural Sciences, Inha University
  • , Sang-im LeeAffiliated withLaboratory of Behavioral Ecology and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, College of Natural Sciences, Seoul National UniversityInstitute of Advanced Machinery and Design, Seoul National University
  • , Piotr G. JablonskiAffiliated withLaboratory of Behavioral Ecology and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, College of Natural Sciences, Seoul National UniversityMuseum and Institute of Zoology, Polish Academy of Sciences
  • , Jin-Woo JungAffiliated withDivision of Polar Life Sciences, Korea Polar Research InstituteDepartment of Biological Sciences, Kongju National University
  • , Jeong-Hoon KimAffiliated withDivision of Polar Life Sciences, Korea Polar Research Institute

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Abstract

Recent findings report that wild animals can recognize individual humans. To explain how the animals distinguish humans, two hypotheses are proposed. The high cognitive abilities hypothesis implies that pre-existing high intelligence enabled animals to acquire such abilities. The pre-exposure to stimuli hypothesis suggests that frequent encounters with humans promote the acquisition of discriminatory abilities in these species. Here, we examine individual human recognition abilities in a wild Antarctic species, the brown skua (Stercorarius antarcticus), which lives away from typical human settlements and was only recently exposed to humans due to activities at Antarctic stations. We found that, as nest visits were repeated, the skua parents responded at further distances and were more likely to attack the nest intruder. Also, we demonstrated that seven out of seven breeding pairs of skuas selectively responded to a human nest intruder with aggression and ignored a neutral human who had not previously approached the nest. The results indicate that Antarctic skuas, a species that typically inhabited in human-free areas, are able to recognize individual humans who disturbed their nests. Our findings generally support the high cognitive abilities hypothesis, but this ability can be acquired during a relatively short period in the life of an individual as a result of interactions between individual birds and humans.

Keywords

Cognition Human recognition Pre-exposure Brown skua Antarctic bird