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Feeding Innovations and Forebrain Size in Australasian Birds

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Many authors have proposed that behavioural flexibility in the field is associated with learning ability in captivity, relative forebrain size and rate of structural evolution. In birds, the frequency of feeding innovations reported in the short notes sections of ornithology journals may be a good way to operationalize flexibility. In this paper, we examine in the birds of Australia and New Zealand the relationship between forebrain size and innovation frequency found in a previous study covering North America and the British Isles. From a methodological point of view, the two variables are highly reliable: innovation frequency per taxonomic group is similar when different readers judge innovation reports and when different editorial styles govern journals; relative forebrain size yields very similar estimates whether mean residuals from a log-log regression are used or ratios of forebrain to brainstem mass. Innovation frequency per taxon is correlated between the two Australasian zones and between these zones and the more northerly ones studied previously. Innovation frequency is also associated with relative forebrain size in Australia and, to a lesser extent, in New-Zealand; in Australia, parrots show the high frequency of innovations predicted by their large forebrain, but yield no innovations in the New Zealand sample. The forebrain/innovation trend is independent of juvenile development mode, but phylogeny appears to be an important intervening variable in Australasia, as evidenced by non-significant independent contrasts.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, H3A 1B1 Canada;, Email:; 2: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; 3: Department of Biology, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, H3A 1B1 Canada; 4: University of Veterinary Science, Budapest, Hungary


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