Behavioral flexibility is manipulatable and it improves flexibility and problem solving in a new context

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Authors

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

Abstract

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 species 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 colored 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 manipulatable: birds in the manipulated group took fewer trials to pass criterion with increasing reversal number, and they reversed a color 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: long exploration period) in all reversals and did not use the epsilon-first strategy: quickly shift their preference), 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.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.32942/osf.io/5z8xs

Subjects

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

Keywords

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

Dates

Published: 2022-01-05 23:24

Last Updated: 2022-08-15 18:27

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License

CC-By Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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