Title: “Jackdaws Prioritize Food over Friendships, but Family Bonds Remain Unshaken”
Researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Bristol have unveiled intriguing insights into the social dynamics of wild jackdaws. These intelligent birds display a remarkable ability to adapt their social relationships in pursuit of rewards, with a notable exception for their family members. The study, led by Dr. Michael Kings and Dr. Josh Arbon under the guidance of Professor Alex Thornton as part of the Cornish Jackdaw Project, sheds new light on animal social behaviors and is published in Nature Communications.
The researchers designed an experiment in which wild jackdaws were presented with a task where access to delectable mealworms hinged on the company they kept. Astonishingly, the jackdaws swiftly changed their social alliances to optimize their rewards, but unwaveringly maintained their connections with offspring, siblings, and lifelong mating partners, as jackdaws are known to pair for life.
Professor Thornton, based at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, remarked, “At the Cornish Jackdaw Project, we monitor hundreds of wild jackdaws, each of which is fitted with a tiny PIT tag—similar to the transponder chips used for pet cats and dogs—embedded in a leg ring.”
“In this experiment, we randomly assigned jackdaws to two groups—Group A or Group B—and programmed a pair of automated PIT tag-detecting feeders to dispense delicious mealworms only if individuals from the same group (AA or BB) visited together. The jackdaws displayed remarkable strategic behavior, swiftly learning to associate with members of their own group while distancing themselves from old ‘friends’ in the opposite group to secure the most substantial rewards. However, they made a significant exception when it came to their close relations.”
Dr. Kings, affiliated with the University of Exeter, emphasized the implications of these findings, stating, “These results have important implications for our understanding of the evolution of intelligence, as they show that the ability to track and remember information about social partners can confer significant benefits.”
Dr. Arbon, now affiliated with the University of Bristol, added, “Our findings also help us understand how societies emerge from individual decisions. The balance between strategically optimizing short-term benefits and investing in valuable long-term partnerships ultimately shapes the structure of animal societies, including our own.”
The research team also included scientists from the University of Konstanz.
– Michael Kings et al, “Wild jackdaws can selectively adjust their social associations while preserving valuable long-term relationships,” Nature Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-40808-7
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Source: University of Exeter