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FOREBRAIN SIZE AND INNOVATION RATE IN EUROPEAN BIRDS: FEEDING, NESTING AND CONFOUNDING VARIABLES

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Previous work has shown a positive correlation between relative forebrain size and feeding innovation frequency, corrected for species number, over different taxonomic groups of birds. Several confounding variables could account for this relationship: ornithologists could notice and report innovations more often in certain taxa because of biased expectations, greater research effort, editorial bias in journals or large population sizes of the taxa. The innovationforebrain correlation could also be spuriously caused by phylogeny or juvenile development mode. We examined these possibilities by entering species number per taxon, population size, number of full length papers, expectations (assessed by a questionnaire), journal source and development mode in multiple regressions that also included relative forebrain size. We did this with and without phylogenetic corrections and tested two behavioural categories, feeding and nesting, where flexibility and learning are clearly thought to differ, but confounds should have similar effects. Through an exhaustive survey covering 30 years in 11 journals, a total of 683 innovations was gathered for the northwestern part of Europe, 507 for feeding and 176 for nesting. Species number per taxon was the only significant confound for both feeding and nesting reports; as predicted, forebrain size was a second significant predictor for feeding innovations, but not for nesting. The frequency of feeding innovations in the short notes of ornithology journals thus appears to be a valid and reliable way to operationalise behavioural flexibility in birds.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, H3A 1B1 Canada

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