Behaviour 2019
Problem-solving Performance is Associated with Innovation and Brain Size in Birds
Jean-Nicolas Audet1, Melanie Couture1, Erich Jarvis2. 1Rockefeller University Field Research Center, Millbrook, NY, United States; 2Rockefeller University, New York, NY, United States

Innovation, the ability to solve novel problems, is often measured in the field by compiling reports of novel feeding behaviors. Large-scale comparative studies using innovation databases in birds and primates have been successfully employed to show associations between innovation and survival in novel environments, risk of extinction and brain size. On the other hand, a more precise and individual assessment of innovation is sometimes necessary. However, to date, there is no consensus on how to measure innovation experimentally.

Here, we assessed an array of cognitive skills in 15 species of birds. All birds were given a series of behavioral tasks that measured associative learning, reversal learning, self-control and problem-solving. At the interspecific level, we did not detect any significant correlation between performance on each task. The only trait that we found to be associated with innovation was problem-solving, which was also correlated with brain size. Our results clearly demonstrate for the first time that among the behavioral tasks that we tested, problem-solving tasks are the only ones that provide a valid experimental assessment of innovation.