Behavioral flexibility is manipulable and it improves flexibility and innovativeness in a new context

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Corina J Logan , Dieter Lukas , Aaron Blaisdell, Zoe Johnson-Ulrich, Maggie MacPherson, Benjamin M Seitz, August Sevchik, Kelsey McCune


Behavioral flexibility, the ability to adapt behavior to new circumstances, is thought to play an important role in a species' ability to successfully adapt to new environments and expand its geographic range. However, flexibility is rarely directly tested in a way that would allow us to determine how flexibility works to predict a species' ability to adapt their behavior to new environments. We use great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus; a bird species) as a model to investigate this question because they have recently rapidly expanded their range into North America. We attempted to manipulate grackle flexibility using shaded (light and dark gray) tube reversal learning to determine whether flexibility is generalizable across contexts (multi-access box), and what learning strategies grackles employ. We found that flexibility was manipulable: birds in the manipulated group took fewer trials to pass criterion with increasing reversal number, and they reversed a shade preference in fewer trials by the end of their serial reversals compared to control birds who had only one reversal. Birds that passed their last reversal faster were also more flexible (faster to switch between loci) and innovative (solved more loci) on a multi-access box. All grackles in the manipulated reversal learning group used one learning strategy (epsilon-decreasing) in all reversals, and none used a particular exploration or exploitation strategy earlier or later in their serial reversals. Understanding how flexibility causally relates to other traits will allow researchers to develop robust theory about what flexibility is and when to invoke it as a primary driver in a given context, such as a rapid geographic range expansion.



Behavior and Ethology, Biology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Life Sciences


Behavioral flexibility, comparative cognition, grackle, innovativeness, multi-access box, problem solving, reversal learning, touchscreen


Published: 2022-01-05 15:24

Last Updated: 2023-08-25 08:45

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