Persistence is key: investigating innovative problem solving by Asian elephants using a novel multi-access box

Abstract

Innovative problem solving is considered a hallmark measure of behavioral flexibility as it describes behavior by which an animal manipulates its environment in a novel way to reach a goal. Elephants are a highly social taxa that have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for adapting to changing environments. To understand how individual differences in behavior impact expressions of innovation, we used a novel extractive foraging device comprised of three compartments to evaluate innovation in 14 captive Asian elephants. In the first phase of testing, elephants had an opportunity to learn one solution, while the second phase gave them an opportunity to innovate to open two other compartments with different solutions. We measured the behavioral traits of neophilia, persistence, motivation, and exploratory diversity, and hypothesized that higher levels of each would be associated with more success in the second phase. Eight elephants innovated to solve three compartments, three solved two, and two solved only one. Consistent with studies in other species, we found that higher success was associated with greater persistence, but not with any other behavioral traits when analyzed per test session. Greater persistence and, unexpectedly, lower exploratory diversity, were associated with success when analyzed at the level of each individual door. Further work is needed to understand how innovation varies both within and between species, with particular attention to the potential impact of anthropogenic changes in wild environments.

Context-dependent use of olfactory cues by foragers of Vespula germanica social wasps

Abstract

Food search is guided by cues from different sensory modalities, such as olfactory and visual. In social wasps, olfaction plays a key role in locating new resources. However, while several studies have focused on the importance of odours in predation, less is known about their role during scavenging, when spatial memories become a relevant guidance mechanism. Here, we investigated whether the use of odours during carrion exploitation by Vespula germanica wasps depends on whether they are locating or relocating the resource. By means of field choice experiments, we evaluated wasp response to odours: an odour eliciting a spontaneous aversive response, a learnt odour eliciting an appetitive response, and the conspecifics’ odour eliciting an attractive response. Experiments were conducted in different contexts, i.e., during food localisation by naïve foragers, re-localisation of a resource at the learnt site and re-localisation of a resource that had been displaced from the learnt site. All olfactory stimuli evaluated markedly influenced foraging decisions in naïve wasps and in experienced wasps when the food was moved from the learnt location. However, odours were ignored during the wasp’s return to the foraging site. These results suggest a cue hierarchy, in which local landmarks are more reliable to relocate carrion, while olfaction would be useful to locate novel resources or relocate a known source when spatial memories fail. Our findings demonstrate a context-dependent use of odours during carrion exploitation by V. germanica wasps and highlight the importance of spatial memories as an important factor modulating odour response.

Overlooked evidence for semantic compositionality and signal reduction in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

Abstract

Recent discoveries of semantic compositionality in Japanese tits have enlivened the discussions on the presence of this phenomenon in wild animal communication. Data on semantic compositionality in wild apes are lacking, even though language experiments with captive apes have demonstrated they are capable of semantic compositionality. In this paper, I revisit the study by Boesch (Hum. Evol. 6:81–89, 1991) who investigated drumming sequences by an alpha male in a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) community in the Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire. A reanalysis of the data reveals that the alpha male produced semantically compositional combined messages of travel direction change and resting period initiation. Unlike the Japanese tits, the elements of the compositional expression were not simply juxtaposed but displayed structural reduction, while one of the two elements in the expression coded the meanings of both elements. These processes show relative resemblance to blending and fusion in human languages. Also unlike the tits, the elements of the compositional expression did not have a fixed order, although there was a fixed distribution of drumming events across the trees used for drumming. Because the elements of the expression appear to carry verb-like meanings, the compositional expression also resembles simple verb-verb constructions and short paratactic combinations of two clauses found across languages. In conclusion, the reanalysis suggests that semantic compositionality and phenomena resembling paratactic combinations of two clauses might have been present in the communication of the last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans, not necessarily in the vocal modality.

Vultures as an overlooked model in cognitive ecology

Abstract

Despite important recent advances in cognitive ecology, our current understanding of avian cognition still largely rests on research conducted on a few model taxa. Vultures are an ecologically distinctive group of species by being the only obligate carrion consumers across terrestrial vertebrates. Their unique scavenging lifestyle suggests they have been subject to particular selective pressures to locate scarce, unpredictable, ephemeral, and nutritionally challenging food. However, substantial variation exists among species in diet, foraging techniques and social structure of populations. Here, we provide an overview of the current knowledge on vulture cognition through a comprehensive literature review and a compilation of our own observations. We find evidence for a variety of innovative foraging behaviors, scrounging tactics, collective problem-solving abilities and tool-use, skills that are considered indicative of enhanced cognition and that bear clear connections with the eco-social lifestyles of species. However, we also find that the cognitive basis of these skills remain insufficiently studied, and identify new research areas that require further attention in the future. Despite these knowledge gaps and the challenges of working with such large animals, we conclude that vultures may provide fresh insight into our knowledge of the ecology and evolution of cognition.

Does quantity matter to a stingless bee?

Abstract

Quantitative information is omnipresent in the world and a wide range of species has been shown to use quantities to optimize their decisions. While most studies have focused on vertebrates, a growing body of research demonstrates that also insects such as honeybees possess basic quantitative abilities that might aid them in finding profitable flower patches. However, it remains unclear if for insects, quantity is a salient feature relative to other stimulus dimensions, or if it is only used as a “last resort” strategy in case other stimulus dimensions are inconclusive. Here, we tested the stingless bee Trigona fuscipennis, a species representative of a vastly understudied group of tropical pollinators, in a quantity discrimination task. In four experiments, we trained wild, free-flying bees on stimuli that depicted either one or four elements. Subsequently, bees were confronted with a choice between stimuli that matched the training stimulus either in terms of quantity or another stimulus dimension. We found that bees were able to discriminate between the two quantities, but performance differed depending on which quantity was rewarded. Furthermore, quantity was more salient than was shape. However, quantity did not measurably influence the bees’ decisions when contrasted with color or surface area. Our results demonstrate that just as honeybees, small-brained stingless bees also possess basic quantitative abilities. Moreover, invertebrate pollinators seem to utilize quantity not only as « last resort » but as a salient stimulus dimension. Our study contributes to the growing body of knowledge on quantitative cognition in invertebrate species and adds to our understanding of the evolution of numerical cognition.