Independent appearance of an innovative feeding behaviour in Antillean bullfinches


Behavioural innovations have been largely documented in birds and are thought to provide advantages in changing environments. However, the mechanisms by which behavioural innovations spread remain poorly known. Two major mechanisms are supposed to play a fundamental role: innovation diffusion by social learning and independent appearance of the same innovation in different individuals. Direct evidence for the independent emergence of the same innovation in different individuals is, however, lacking. Here, we show that a highly localized behavioural innovation previously observed in 2000 in Barbados, the opening of sugar packets by Loxigilla barbadensis bullfinches, persisted more than a decade later and had spread to a limited area around the initial site. More importantly, we found that the same innovation appeared independently in other, more distant, locations on the same island. On the island of St-Lucia, 145 km from Barbados, we also found that the sister species of the Barbados bullfinch, the Lesser Antillean bullfinch Loxigilla noctis developed the same innovation independently. Finally, we found that a third species, the Bananaquit Coereba flaveola, exploited the bullfinches’ technical innovation to benefit from this new food source. Overall, our observations provide the first direct evidence of the independent emergence of the same behavioural innovation in different individuals of the same species, but also in different species subjected to similar anthropogenic food availability.

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We thank Dr. R. Russel for providing information on bullfinch behaviour at Accra Beach, and Simon Reader, Lisa Jacquin and two anonymous reviewers for suggestions that greatly improved the manuscript. This work was supported by a post-doctoral fellowship from the Fondation Fyssen to SD, a FQRNT doctoral scholarship to JNA and a NSERC research grant to LL.

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Correspondence to S. Ducatez.

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S. Ducatez and J. N. Audet contributed equally to the study.

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Ducatez, S., Audet, J.N. & Lefebvre, L. Independent appearance of an innovative feeding behaviour in Antillean bullfinches. Anim Cogn 16, 525–529 (2013).

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  • Behavioural innovation
  • Cognition
  • Behavioural flexibility
  • Social learning
  • Barbados