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Innovative problem-solving in a threatened gull species, the Olrog’s Gull (Larus atlanticus)


Innovation, a process that plays an important role in the ecology and evolution of species, is considered an expression of behavioral flexibility in animals. Here we analyzed innovative problem-solving ability and performance enhancement through learning in the Olrog's Gull (Larus atlanticus), under controlled processes and experimental conditions. Trials were undertaken with nine adult individuals captured at a highly urbanized coastal area of Argentina. Each individual was presented with a Plexiglas box that could be opened by pushing or pulling two lids, each lid leading to a separated food reward. We measured problem-solving ability through consumption latency and the number of solved lids. As explanatory variables, we measured contact rate, as a measure of persistence, and the number of effective contacts. The results showed that the contact rate and effective contacts did not affect variables related to problem-solving ability during the first confrontation of the individuals with the closed box. Consumption latency decreased significantly throughout the trials, and with increasing contact rate and effective contacts. The number of solved lids increased through the trials independently of the contact rate and the total effective contacts with the box. Although persistence did not influence individuals’ performance during the problem-solving test; this variable affected individuals’ ability to solve the task throughout trials. Learning was evidenced by the decrease in the resolution time across experiments, suggesting that successful individuals improved their performance probably through a trial-and-error process. Evaluation of behavioral responses of a threatened seabird to a novel problem-solving task adds knowledge to previous field studies and provides a better understanding of the ability of individuals to adjust their foraging behavior in highly urbanized areas used during the non-breeding season.

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The authors would like to thank Graciela Li, José Bramante and Tomás Córdoba for providing logistical assistance during the fieldwork. The authors also thank the Ministerio de Agroindustria (Dirección de Flora y Fauna de la Provincia de Buenos Aires) for the permits to work in the area.


This work was supported by Agencia Nacional de Promoción de la Investigación, el Desarrollo Tecnológico y la Innovación (Grants PICT 2016–0618 to Dr. G. García, and PICT 2017–1761 to Dr. M. Favero), and the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata (Grant 15/E238, to Dr. L. Vega).

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Authors and Affiliations



MV Castano: Conceptualization, methodology, investigation, formal analysis, writing—original draft, writing—review & editing. LMB: Conceptualization, visualization, methodology, formal analysis, writing—review & editing, supervision. MF: Funding acquisition, writing—review & editing. GOG: Conceptualization, methodology, investigation, writing—review & editing, funding acquisition, supervision, project administration.

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Correspondence to Melina Vanesa Castano.

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The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.

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All animal manipulations reported here were carried out in accordance with the legal standards of the government of Argentina. Permit to capture and handle gulls: Disposición N 19/2019, Dirección Provincial de Fiscalización Agropecuaria, Alimentaria y de los Recursos Naturales del Ministerio de Desarrollo Agrario, and RD 55 (2019) Comité Institucional de Cuidado y Uso de Animales de Laboratorio (CICUAL), Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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Castano, M.V., Biondi, L.M., Favero, M. et al. Innovative problem-solving in a threatened gull species, the Olrog’s Gull (Larus atlanticus). Anim Cogn 25, 519–527 (2022).

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  • Behavioral flexibility
  • Innovation
  • Learning
  • Seabirds
  • Larus atlanticus