Testing for general intelligence in wild great tits (Parus major)

Outline

To cope with the rapid changes in their environment, often driven by anthropogenic pressures, wild birds must adapt their behaviour to survive and produce offspring. Although there is strong natural selection for behavioural flexibility (i.e. problem solving, learning), little is known about whether birds that are good at one task (e.g. problem solving) are also good at other tasks that require different cognitive abilities (e.g. learning). Information about the ability to perform well at multiple tasks is important for selecting for general intelligence rather than specific cognitive traits.

Aim

In this Masters project, you will set-up multiple cognitive tasks in a wild population of great tits to explore for inter-individual variation in general intelligence.

Project details

You will carry fieldwork in Gotland, Sweden. You will be measuring cognitive abilities in breeding adult great tits using dedicated cognitive tasks (problem solving, detour reaching, learning apparatus). You will work with a field team and be using cognitive tasks already successfully tested in the field. You will receive training in fieldwork, analysis of behaviours using a dedicated software, statistics, and scientific writing.

Requirements

We are looking for a student interested in behavioural ecology. The project will involve field work (busy and long days in the forest whatever the meteorological conditions, from late April to end of June) at a remote location (Gotland, Sweden), and long hours of video analyses. We are looking for someone able to work with a team, as well as alone, with good physical conditions to spend days walking and carrying material in the forest. Ideally, the student should hold a driving license. Knowledge of using R for statistics is desirable.

The student should be available for the project from early April 2024 at the latest.

Contact

Pierre Bize
email: pierre.bize@vogelwarte.ch

Literature

Cauchard, L., Angers, B., Boogert, N.J., Lenarth, M., Bize, P., and Doligez, B. (2017). An Experimental Test of a Causal Link between Problem-Solving Performance and Reproductive Success in Wild Great Tits. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2017.00107