Do sex differences in construction behavior relate to differences in physical cognitive abilities?

Abstract

Nest-building behaviour in birds may be particularly relevant to investigating the evolution of physical cognition, as nest building engages cognitive mechanisms for the use and manipulation of materials. We hypothesized that nest-building ecology may be related to physical cognitive abilities. To test our hypothesis, we used zebra finches, which have sex-differentiated roles in nest building. We tested 16 male and 16 female zebra finches on three discrimination tasks in the following order: length discrimination, flexibility discrimination, and color discrimination, using different types of string. We predicted that male zebra finches, which select and deposit the majority of nesting material and are the primary nest builders in this species, would learn to discriminate string length and flexibility-structural traits relevant to nest building-in fewer trials compared to females, but that the sexes would learn color discrimination (not structurally relevant to nest building) in a similar number of trials. Contrary to these predictions, male and female zebra finches did not differ in their speed to learn any of the three tasks. There was, however, consistent among-individual variation in performance: learning speed was positively correlated across the tasks. Our findings suggest that male and female zebra finches either (1) do not differ in their physical cognitive abilities, or (2) any cognitive sex differences in zebra finches are more specific to tasks more closely associated with nest building. Our experiment is the first to examine the potential evolutionary relationship between nest building and physical cognitive abilities.

Breed group differences in the unsolvable problem task: herding dogs prefer their owner, while solitary hunting dogs seek stranger proximity

Abstract

The communicating skills of dogs are well documented and especially their contact-seeking behaviours towards humans. The aim of this study was to use the unsolvable problem paradigm to investigate differences between breed groups in their contact-seeking behaviours towards their owner and a stranger. Twenty-four dogs of ancient breeds, 58 herding dogs, and 17 solitary hunting dogs were included in the study, and their behaviour when presented with an unsolvable problem task (UPT) was recorded for 3 min. All breed groups interacted with the test apparatus the same amount of time, but the herding dogs showed a longer gaze duration towards their owner compared to the other groups and they also preferred to interact with their owner instead of a stranger. Interestingly, the solitary hunting dogs were more in stranger proximity than the other groups, and they also showed a preference to make contact with a stranger instead of their owner. Hence, we found differences in contact-seeking behaviours, reflecting the dog–human relationship, between breed groups that might not only be related to their genetic similarity to wolves, but also due to the specific breeding history of the dogs.