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Exclusion in the field: wild brown skuas find hidden food in the absence of visual information

Abstract

Inferential reasoning by exclusion allows responding adaptively to various environmental stimuli when confronted with inconsistent or partial information. In the experimental context, this mechanism involves selecting correctly between an empty option and a potentially rewarded one. Recently, the increasing reports of this capacity in phylogenetically distant species have led to the assumption that reasoning by exclusion is the result of convergent evolution. Within one largely unstudied avian order, i.e. the Charadriiformes, brown skuas (Catharacta antarctica ssp lonnbergi) are highly flexible and opportunistic predators. Behavioural flexibility, along with specific aspects of skuas’ feeding ecology, may act as influencing factors in their ability to show exclusion performance. Our study aims to test whether skuas are able to choose by exclusion in a visual two-way object-choice task. Twenty-six wild birds were presented with two opaque cups, one covering a food reward. Three conditions were used: ‘full information’ (showing the content of both cups), ‘exclusion’ (showing the content of the empty cup), and ‘control’ (not showing any content). Skuas preferentially selected the rewarded cup in the full information and exclusion condition. The use of olfactory cues was excluded by results in the control condition. Our study opens new field investigations for testing further the cognition of this predatory seabird.

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Acknowledgments

This work was financed by the French Polar Institute (IPEV): project ETHOTAAF 354 to FB and IRFP-NSF (#0700939) Fellowship to APN. We would like to thank Yoanna Marescot for helping with the experiments on the field. We are very grateful to Dora Biro and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Samara Danel.

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10071_2021_1486_MOESM1_ESM.docx

Table S1. Individuals’ performances (1 successful, 0 unsuccessful) and number of times each subject chose the left or right container in each condition (DOCX 43 KB)

Video S2. Video of test trial examples in the full information and the exclusion conditions, respectively (MP4 64986 KB)

10071_2021_1486_MOESM2_ESM.mp4

Video S2. Video of test trial examples in the full information and the exclusion conditions, respectively (MP4 64986 KB)

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Danel, S., Chiffard-Carricaburu, J., Bonadonna, F. et al. Exclusion in the field: wild brown skuas find hidden food in the absence of visual information. Anim Cogn 24, 867–876 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-021-01486-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-021-01486-4

Keywords

  • Avian cognition
  • Charadriiformes
  • Cups task
  • Exclusion performance
  • Inferential reasoning