Group size and associative learning in the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen dorsalis)
- 640 Downloads
Group living can present unique challenges that may require individuals to possess cognitive skills, such as the ability to recognise group members and maintain relationships with specific individuals. These skills may be particularly important for animals that live in large groups, because the intricacies of social life may become more complex when more individuals are involved. Previous research has found that species with regular social interactions tend to show elevated cognitive performance relative to those that rarely interact, yet intraspecific variation in performance among individuals in social groups of varying size is rarely explored. We investigated the relationship between the ability to solve an associative learning task and group size among individuals of a free-living, social bird, the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen dorsalis). Individuals varied in their likelihood of interacting with and solving the task. Individuals from larger groups were more likely to approach the associative learning task, suggesting that group size influences individual propensity to attempt a novel task. However, group size did not influence the likelihood that individuals solved the task. Rather, age had an important effect; adults were more likely to solve the association task than juveniles. Our finding that free-living individuals occurring in large social groups were more likely to interact with a novel task suggests that group size may affect differences in performance at a cognitive task within a species.
KeywordsCognition Sociality Associative learning Group size Australian magpie Cracticus tibicen dorsalis
First and foremost, we would like to thank Dr. Eleanor Rowley for not only establishing the magpie population involved in this research, but also sharing her 15 years of knowledge on the magpies to allow research to continue. We would like to thank Alex Thornton, Cyril Grueter and our manuscript reviewers for providing valuable input into the development of the manuscript. Additionally, we would like to thank Ben Ashton and Emily Edwards for their assistance in the field. This research was funded by the School of Animal Biology, University of Western Australia.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All observations performed on free-living magpies in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Animal Ethics Committee, University of Western Australia (Approval number RA/100/1272).
- Bouchard J (2002) Is social learning correlated with innovation in birds? An inter-and intraspecific test. Master’s thesis. McGill University, Montreal, QuebecGoogle Scholar
- Brosnan SF, Salwiczek L, Bshary R (2010) The interplay of cognition and cooperation. Proc R Soc Lond B 365:2699–2710Google Scholar
- Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) Model selection and multimodel inference: a practical information- theoretical approach, 2nd edn. Springer-Verlag, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Edwards EK (2014) The impacts of heat on foraging effort and reproductive behaviour in Australian magpies (Cracticus tibicen dorsalis). Honours thesis. University of Western Australia, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
- Hardin JW, Hilbe JM (2013) Generalized estimating equations (GEE), 2nd edn. Taylor and Francis, Hoboken, USAGoogle Scholar
- Heyes CM, Galef BG Jr (eds) (1996) Social learning in animals: the roots of culture. Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
- Hughes JM, Mather PB (1991) Variation in the size of territorial groups in the Australian magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen. Proc R Soc Queensland 101:13–19Google Scholar
- Johnstone RE, Storr GM (2004) Handbook of western Australian birds. Western Australian Museum, Perth, Western AustraliaGoogle Scholar
- Jones DN, Thomas LK (1999) Attacks on humans by Australian magpies: management of an extreme suburban human-wildlife conflict. Wildlife Soc B 27:473–478Google Scholar
- Kaplan G (2004) Australian magpie: biology and behaviour of an unusual songbird. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, VictoriaGoogle Scholar
- McCormick J (2007) Possible tool use by an Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen). Notornis 54:116–117Google Scholar
- Mirville MO (2013) The effect of group size on the cognitive abilities of the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen dorsalis). Honours thesis. University of Western Australia, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
- Scace J, Dobberfuhl A, Higgins E, Shumway C (2006) Complexity and the evolution of the social brain. InterJournal, Complex Systems 1844Google Scholar