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Tracking Changes of Hidden Food: Spatial Pattern Learning in Two Macaw Species

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Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Eberhard-Gwinner-Straße, 82319 Seewiesen, Germany
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Max-Planck Comparative Cognition Research Station, Loro Parque Fundación, 38400 Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Spain
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Comparative Cognition Lab, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EB, UK
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Department of Behavioral and Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, 1090 Vienna, Austria
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Academic Editor: Jukka Jokimäki
Birds 2021, 2(3), 285-301; https://doi.org/10.3390/birds2030021
Received: 30 June 2021 / Revised: 3 August 2021 / Accepted: 4 August 2021 / Published: 9 August 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Feature Papers of Birds 2021)
Efficiency in locating available food sources, which vary spatially and temporally, using spatial distribution patterns may differ depending on a species’ diet and habitat specialisation. We hypothesised that more generalist species would acquire spatial information faster than more specialist species, due to being more explorative when changes occur. We tested this hypothesis by presenting a ‘poke box’ to relatively more generalist Great Green Macaws and relatively more specialist Blue-throated Macaws. The ‘poke box’ contained hidden food placed within wells that formed two patterns. The two patterns changed on a mid-week schedule. We found that (1) the two patterns varied in their difficulty; and (2) the more generalist Great Green Macaws took fewer trials to learn the easier pattern and made more mean correct responses in the difficult pattern, than the more specialist Blue-throated Macaws, thus supporting our hypothesis. The Great Green Macaws’ better learning performance may be explained by more exploration and prioritising accuracy over speed. These results suggest how variation in diet and habitat specialisation may relate to a species’ ability to adapt to spatial changes of food resources, which will be useful for the conservation efforts for the two critically endangered species to understand their abilities to cope with environmental change.
Food availability may vary spatially and temporally within an environment. Efficiency in locating alternative food sources using spatial information (e.g., distribution patterns) may vary according to a species’ diet and habitat specialisation. Hypothetically, more generalist species would learn faster than more specialist species due to being more explorative when changes occur. We tested this hypothesis in two closely related macaw species, differing in their degree of diet and habitat specialisation; the more generalist Great Green Macaw and the more specialist Blue-throated Macaw. We examined their spatial pattern learning performance under predictable temporal and spatial change, using a ‘poke box’ that contained hidden food placed within wells. Each week, the rewarded wells formed two patterns (A and B), which were changed on a mid-week schedule. We found that the two patterns varied in their difficulty. We also found that the more generalist Great Green Macaws took fewer trials to learn the easier pattern and made more mean correct responses in the difficult pattern than the more specialist Blue-throated Macaws, thus supporting our hypothesis. The better learning performance of the Great Green Macaws may be explained by more exploration and trading-off accuracy for speed. These results suggest how variation in diet and habitat specialisation may relate to a species’ ability to adapt to spatial variation in food availability. View Full-Text
Keywords: parrots; Ara ambiguus; Ara glaucogularis; memory; foraging; generalist; specialist; comparative cognition parrots; Ara ambiguus; Ara glaucogularis; memory; foraging; generalist; specialist; comparative cognition
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MDPI and ACS Style

Chow, P.K.Y.; Davies, J.R.; Bapat, A.; von Bayern, A.M.P. Tracking Changes of Hidden Food: Spatial Pattern Learning in Two Macaw Species. Birds 2021, 2, 285-301. https://doi.org/10.3390/birds2030021

AMA Style

Chow PKY, Davies JR, Bapat A, von Bayern AMP. Tracking Changes of Hidden Food: Spatial Pattern Learning in Two Macaw Species. Birds. 2021; 2(3):285-301. https://doi.org/10.3390/birds2030021

Chicago/Turabian Style

Chow, Pizza K.Y., James R. Davies, Awani Bapat, and Auguste M.P. von Bayern 2021. "Tracking Changes of Hidden Food: Spatial Pattern Learning in Two Macaw Species" Birds 2, no. 3: 285-301. https://doi.org/10.3390/birds2030021

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