Tracking changing environments: innovators are fast, but not flexible learners

Griffin, Andrea S., Guez, David, Lermite, Françoise, and Patience, Madeleine (2013) Tracking changing environments: innovators are fast, but not flexible learners. PLoS ONE, 8 (12). e84907. pp. 1-7.

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Behavioural innovations are increasingly thought to provide a rich source of phenotypic plasticity and evolutionary change. Innovation propensity shows substantial variation across avian taxa and provides an adaptive mechanism by which behaviour is flexibly adjusted to changing environmental conditions. Here, we tested for the first time the prediction that inter-individual variation in innovation propensity is equally a measure of behavioural flexibility. We used Indian mynas, Sturnus tristis, a highly successful worldwide invader. Results revealed that mynas that solved an extractive foraging task more quickly learnt to discriminate between a cue that predicted food, and one that did not more quickly. However, fast innovators were slower to change their behaviour when the significance of the food cues changed. This unexpected finding appears at odds with the well-established view that avian taxa with larger brains relative to their body size, and therefore greater neural processing power, are both faster, and more flexible learners. We speculate that the existence of this relationship across taxa can be reconciled with its absence within species by assuming that fast, innovative learners and non innovative, slow, flexible learners constitute two separate individual strategies, which are both underpinned by enhanced neural processing power. This idea is consistent with the recent proposal that individuals may differ consistently in 'cognitive style', differentially trading off speed against accuracy in cognitive tasks.

Item ID: 44796
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1932-6203
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© 2013 Griffin et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funders: University of Newcastle (UoN)
Projects and Grants: UoN Faculty of Science and Information Technology Strategic Research Grants
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2017 05:59
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060201 Behavioural Ecology @ 50%
17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1799 Other Psychology and Cognitive Sciences > 179999 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences not elsewhere classified @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 50%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and Cognitive Sciences @ 50%
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