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Large quantity discrimination by North Island robins (Petroica longipes)

An Erratum to this article was published on 09 September 2012

Abstract

While numerosity—representation and enumeration of different numbers of objects—and quantity discrimination in particular have been studied in a wide range of species, very little is known about the numerical abilities of animals in the wild. This study examined spontaneous relative quantity judgments (RQJs) by wild North Island robins (Petroica longipes) of New Zealand. In Experiment 1, robins were tested on a range of numerical values of up to 14 versus 16 items, which were sequentially presented and hidden. In Experiment 2, the same numerical contrasts were tested on a different group of subjects but quantities were presented as whole visible sets. Experiment 3 involved whole visible sets that comprised of exceedingly large quantities of up to 56 versus 64 items. While robins shared with other species a ratio-based representation system for representing very large values, they also appeared to have developed an object indexing system with an extended upper limit (well beyond 4) that may be an evolutionary response to ecological challenges faced by scatter-hoarding birds. These results suggest that cognitive mechanism influencing an understanding of physical quantity may be deployed more flexibly in some contexts than previously thought, and are discussed in light of findings across other mammalian and avian species.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Karori Sanctuary staff and volunteers for making this research possible.

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Correspondence to Alexis Garland.

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Garland, A., Low, J. & Burns, K.C. Large quantity discrimination by North Island robins (Petroica longipes). Anim Cogn 15, 1129–1140 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0537-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0537-3

Keywords

  • New Zealand robin
  • Quantity discrimination
  • Large number representations
  • Relative quantity judgment
  • Avian cognition