The relationship between plumage colouration, problem-solving and learning performance in great tits Parus major
Journal of Avian Biology
Recent studies suggest that individuals with better problem-solving and/or learning performance have greater reproductive success, and that individuals may thus benefit from choosing mates based on these performances. However, directly assessing these performances in candidate mates could be difficult. Instead, the use of indirect cues related to problem-solving and/or learning performance, such as condition-dependent phenotypic traits, might be favored. We investigated whether problem-solving and learning performance on a novel non-foraging task correlated with sexually selected plumage colouration in a natural population of great tits Parus major. We found that males successful in solving the task had darker blue-black crowns than non-solvers, and that males solving the task more rapidly over multiple attempts (i.e. learners) exhibited blue-black crowns with higher UV chroma and shorter-wavelength hues than non-learners. In contrast, we found no link between behavioural performance on the task and the yellow breast colouration in either sex. Our findings suggest that blue-black crown colouration could serve as a signal of problem-solving and learning performance in wild great tit males. Further research remains necessary to determine whether different sexually selected traits are used to signal cognitive performance for mate choice, either directly (i.e. cognitive performance influencing individual's health and ornamentation through diet for example) or indirectly (i.e. due to a correlation with a third factor such as individual quality or condition).
Funding Reference Number
INEE, no. 31520
Cauchard, Laure; Doucet, Stéphanie M.; Boogert, Neeltje J.; Angers, Bernard; and Doligez, Blandine, "The relationship between plumage colouration, problem-solving and learning performance in great tits Parus major" (2017). Journal of Avian Biology, 48, 9, 1246-1253.