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Sociality, social learning and individual differences in rooks, jackdaws and Eurasian jays

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Federspiel, Ira Gil 


Social intelligence is thought to have evolved as an adaptation to the complex situations group-living animals encounter in their daily lives. High levels of sociality provide individuals with opportunities to learn from one another. Social learning provides individuals with a relatively cheap and quick alternative to individual learning. This thesis investigated social learning in three corvid species: gregarious rooks (Corvus frugilegus) and jackdaws (Corvus monedula) and nongregarious, territorial Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius). In addition to that, the species' social structure was analysed and individual differences between members of each species were determined. Introducing the field of social learning research, I presented a new framework for investigating social learning, combining ecology, ethology and evolution. Experiments were conducted within that framework. I found that rooks and jackdaws develop social bonds and dominance hierarchies, whereas Eurasian jays do not. This is most likely related to their territoriality. In two experiments using two-action tasks, jackdaws learned socially. The underlying social learning mechanism was enhancement, which fits in with their feeding ecology. Rooks did not show social learning when presented with videos of conspecifics opening an apparatus. This might have been due to the difficulty of transferring information from videos or due to an ingrained 'affinity' to innovation and/or rapid trial-and-error learning overriding social learning processes. Individual differences along the bold/shy axis existed in all three species, but they were not stable across contexts. Thus, it seemed that the individuals perceived the two seemingly similar contexts that were designed to investigate neophobia and exploration (novel object in familiar environment; novel environment) as two different situations. The information may therefore have been processed by two distinct underlying mechanisms, which elicited different responses in each of the contexts. The implications of the findings of this thesis are discussed with regard to the new framework, integrating sociality, social learning and individual differences with the species' ecology.





Social, Social learning, Sociality, Personality, Individual differences, Corvid, Rook, Jackdaw, Jay, Crow, Eurasian jay, Animal behaviour, Ecology, Ethology, Evolution, Novel object, Novel environment, Transmission, Culture, Diffusion, Two action task, Bond, Hierarchy, Dominance, Relationship, Group


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
I am grateful for PhD funding from the Cambridge European Trust, a Balfour studentship from Zoology, a grant from the Cambridge Philosophical Society, the Lundgren fund and numerous small grants from Gonville & Caius college.