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Is Group-Living Associated With Social Learning? a Comparative Test of a Gregarious and a Territorial Columbid

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Group-living is often thought to be associated with social learning. Comparative tests are useful in evaluating the link between ecological variables and learning specializations, but controls are required to guard against possible confounding variables. In this paper, we test the association between group-living and social learning by comparing two opportunistic, urbanized, Columbids in a set of experiments involving shaping and individual learning controls. In part 1, we provide quantitative field data on foraging group size for the two species, the feral pigeon (Columba livia) studied in central Montréal and the Zenaida dove (Zenaida aurita) studied in coastal Barbados. The data confirm anecdotal reports that contrast the gregarious social organization of C. livia with the territorial organization of coastal Z. aurita. In part 2, we test pigeons and Zenaida doves on two food-finding tasks and show (1) that feral pigeons are better than Zenaida doves at solving all variants of the tasks presented, whether individually or socially learned, and (2) that once general species differences are taken into account, territorial Zenaida doves are not less efficient than gregarious feral pigeons at using food-finding information provided by a conspecific tutor. The results do not support the association between group-living and social learning and show that procedures like shaping and control variants of the task may help interpret interspecific differences in learning.

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

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