Problem-solving performance and reproductive success of great tits in urban and forest habitats


Success in problem solving, a form of innovativeness, can help animals exploit their environments, and recent research suggests that it may correlate with reproductive success. Innovativeness has been proposed to be especially beneficial in urbanized habitats, as suggested by superior problem-solving performance of urban individuals in some species. If there is stronger selection for innovativeness in cities than in natural habitats, we expect problem-solving performance to have a greater positive effect on fitness in more urbanized habitats. We tested this idea in great tits (Parus major) breeding at two urban sites and two forests by measuring their problem-solving performance in an obstacle-removal task and a food-acquisition task. Urban pairs were significantly faster problem-solvers in both tasks. Solving speed in the obstacle-removal task was positively correlated with hatching success and the number of fledglings, whereas performance in the food-acquisition task did not correlate with reproductive success. These relationships did not differ between urban and forest habitats. Neophobia, sensitivity to human disturbance, and risk taking in the presence of a predator did not explain the relationships of problem-solving performance either with habitat type or with reproductive success. Our results suggest that the benefit of innovativeness in terms of reproductive success is similar in urban and natural habitats, implying that problem-solving skills may be enhanced in urban populations by some other benefits (e.g. increased survival) or reduced costs (e.g. more opportunities to gain practice with challenging tasks).

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We thank Tamás Hammer for his help during the experiment. The study was financed by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA Grants K84132 and K112838). During the preparation of the manuscript, we were supported by the European Union, with the co-funding of the European Social Fund (S.P., I.P., B.P., and E.V. by TÁMOP-4.2.2.A-11/1/KONV-2012-0064). V.B. was supported by the János Bolyai Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. We thank Andrea Griffin and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Bálint Preiszner.

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All procedures were in accordance with Hungarian laws and licensed by the Middle Transdanubian Inspectorate for Environmental Protection, Natural Protection and Water Management (Permission Number: 31559/2011).

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This article is part of the Special Issue Animal cognition in a human-dominated world.

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Preiszner, B., Papp, S., Pipoly, I. et al. Problem-solving performance and reproductive success of great tits in urban and forest habitats. Anim Cogn 20, 53–63 (2017).

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  • Innovation
  • Urbanization
  • Breeding success
  • Birds
  • Behaviour