Speed–accuracy trade-off, detour reaching and response to PHA in Carib grackles

  • Simon DucatezEmail author
  • Jean-Nicolas Audet
  • Louis Lefebvre
Original Paper


Performance on different cognitive tasks varies between individuals within species. Recent evidence suggests that, in some species, this variation reflects the existence of coherent cognitive strategies bringing together positive and negative relationships between tasks. For example, Carib grackles show a speed–accuracy trade-off, where individuals that are fast at solving novel problems make more errors at discrimination learning than individuals that are slow solvers. Pathogens are thought to play a major role in shaping variation in cognition, either because different cognitive strategies lead to differential exposure to pathogens, or because investment in cognitive abilities is costly, limiting the ability to invest in anti-pathogen responses. In both cases, immunocompetence is expected to co-vary with cognition. Here, using wild-caught Carib grackles, we tested whether performance on reversal learning and detour-reaching tasks is associated with the speed–accuracy trade-off found in a previous study. In parallel, we measured the response of individuals to a phytohemagglutinin (PHA) injection, an immunoecological technique that assesses general immunity. Performance on two problem-solving tasks and two learning tasks was characterized by a speed–accuracy trade-off, reversal learning and discrimination learning performance being better in individuals with slower problem-solving performance. Detour-reaching performance was independent from this trade-off. Finally, our results show that PHA response was higher in accurate but slow grackles, and higher in grackles with better detour-reaching performance. Investigating the emergence and maintenance of variation in cognition in a framework integrating variation in physiology and life history is likely a major step towards a better understanding of the evolution of cognition.


Cognitive strategy Cognitive styles Detour reaching Pace of life syndrome Phytohemagglutinin Quiscalus lugubris fortirostris 



We thank C. Rowe for his help in building the aviaries at the Bellairs Research Institute, and L. Jacquin for helpful discussions.


This work was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Fondation Fyssen to S.D., a FQRNT doctoral scholarship to J.N.A and an NSERC Discovery Grant to L.L.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The three authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All our procedures were approved by the McGill University Animal Care Committee (Animal Use Protocol 2013–7140) as well as the Natural Heritage Department of the Barbados Ministry of Environment and Drainage (permit 8434/56), and all applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Human and animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

10071_2019_1258_MOESM1_ESM.docx (27 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 26 KB)
10071_2019_1258_MOESM2_ESM.wmv (14.2 mb)
Movie showing a grackle performing on the detour-reaching task. The first 55 seconds show different moments of the bird’s first trial as it is trying to get the food by directly pecking at the Plexiglas divider, until it finally makes the detour to reach the food. The last 10 seconds show a successful trial, whereby the bird directly makes the detour, without first pecking at the Plexiglas divider (WMV 14560 KB)
10071_2019_1258_MOESM3_ESM.xlsx (12 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (XLSX 12 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyMcGill UniversityMontréalCanada

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