Behavioral flexibility and problem solving in an invasive bird

PeerJ. 2016 May 3:4:e1975. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1975. eCollection 2016.


Behavioral flexibility is considered an important trait for adapting to environmental change, but it is unclear what it is, how it works, and whether it is a problem solving ability. I investigated behavioral flexibility and problem solving experimentally in great-tailed grackles, an invasive bird species and thus a likely candidate for possessing behavioral flexibility. Grackles demonstrated behavioral flexibility in two contexts, the Aesop's Fable paradigm and a color association test. Contrary to predictions, behavioral flexibility did not correlate across contexts. Four out of 6 grackles exhibited efficient problem solving abilities, but problem solving efficiency did not appear to be directly linked with behavioral flexibility. Problem solving speed also did not significantly correlate with reversal learning scores, indicating that faster learners were not the most flexible. These results reveal how little we know about behavioral flexibility, and provide an immense opportunity for future research to explore how individuals and species can use behavior to react to changing environments.

Keywords: Aesop’s Fable; Behavioral flexibility; Color discrimination; Icteridae; Problem solving; Reversal learning.

Grants and funding

Funding was provided by the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program (grant number W252-12) and Junior Research Fellowship from the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.