A field test of behavioural flexibility in Zenaida doves (Zenaida aurita)

  • Boogert N
  • Monceau K
  • Lefebvre L
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Animals' ability to adjust their behaviour when environmental conditions change can increase their likelihood of survival. Although such behavioural flexibility is regularly observed in the field, it has proven difficult to systematically quantify and predict inter-individual differences in free-living animals. We presented 24 Zenaida doves (Zenaida aurita) on 12 territories with two learning tests in their natural habitat in Barbados. The dove pairs showed high site fidelity and territoriality, allowing us to test individuals repeatedly while accounting for the effects of territorial chases and pair bonds on our learning measures. We used a foraging apparatus that enabled Zenaida doves to access seed, yet excluded other species, and measured doves' performance on colour discrimination and reversal learning tests. We found that (1) doves on all 12 territories passed the two tests; (2) mates within a pair were consistently solvers or scroungers; (3) sex, body condition and territorial chases did not consistently affect learning rates; (4) tameness was a significant negative predictor of learning to feed from the foraging apparatus and (5) scrounging within pairs seemed to facilitate learning. Our study presents a method to quantify intraspecific differences in behavioural flexibility in the field and relate these to individuals' physical and social traits. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Behavioural flexibility
  • Body condition
  • Flight initiation distance
  • Human disturbance
  • Pair bond
  • Reversal learning
  • Scrounging

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