The role of motor diversity in foraging innovations: a cross-species comparison in urban birds

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Abstract

The capacity to behave innovatively facilitates adaptation to changing environmental conditions and accelerates speciation rates. Innovation tendencies show substantial variation both among and within species, but the sources of this variation remain poorly understood. There has been much debate on the role of cognition and significant amounts of empirical research on the influence of motivational and state-dependent processes, but the prediction that innovation might also be facilitated by motor processes has only recently begun to gain traction. Here, we measured innovative foraging in 7 common urban avian species under free-ranging conditions and explored the role of motor flexibility as well as several potential other predictors of innovation such as motivation and morphology. Species differed significantly in their tendency to forage innovatively, with a true corvid, the Australian raven, Corvus coronoides, outperforming all other species. Across species, motor flexibility was the strongest predictor of the capacity to forage innovatively. Our results extend previous work demonstrating the role of motor diversity in individual differences in the tendency to forage innovatively and provide the impetus for future research on links between motor and cognitive flexibility.

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