Problem-solving performance and reproductive success of great tits in urban and forest habitats

Anim Cogn. 2017 Jan;20(1):53-63. doi: 10.1007/s10071-016-1008-z. Epub 2016 Jun 13.


Success in problem solving, a form of innovativeness, can help animals exploit their environments, and recent research suggests that it may correlate with reproductive success. Innovativeness has been proposed to be especially beneficial in urbanized habitats, as suggested by superior problem-solving performance of urban individuals in some species. If there is stronger selection for innovativeness in cities than in natural habitats, we expect problem-solving performance to have a greater positive effect on fitness in more urbanized habitats. We tested this idea in great tits (Parus major) breeding at two urban sites and two forests by measuring their problem-solving performance in an obstacle-removal task and a food-acquisition task. Urban pairs were significantly faster problem-solvers in both tasks. Solving speed in the obstacle-removal task was positively correlated with hatching success and the number of fledglings, whereas performance in the food-acquisition task did not correlate with reproductive success. These relationships did not differ between urban and forest habitats. Neophobia, sensitivity to human disturbance, and risk taking in the presence of a predator did not explain the relationships of problem-solving performance either with habitat type or with reproductive success. Our results suggest that the benefit of innovativeness in terms of reproductive success is similar in urban and natural habitats, implying that problem-solving skills may be enhanced in urban populations by some other benefits (e.g. increased survival) or reduced costs (e.g. more opportunities to gain practice with challenging tasks).

Keywords: Behaviour; Birds; Breeding success; Innovation; Urbanization.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecosystem
  • Forests
  • Passeriformes*
  • Problem Solving*
  • Reproduction*