Social birds display a greater level of intelligence

Researchers have been studying groups of Australian magpies.

Social birds display a greater level of intelligence

Australian magpies © Ben Ashton


A new study has examined the link between group size and intelligence in Australian magpies, Cracticus tibicen.

The results suggest that increased social interaction between these birds drives cognitive evolution, leading to smarter individuals.

“The challenges of living in complex social groups have long been seen as drivers of the evolution of intelligence,” says Dr Ben Ashton, lead author on the paper. “However, evidence to support this is contentious, and has recently been called into question.”

Researchers from the University of Western Australia set out to test the social intelligence hypothesis (SIH).

SIH suggests that intelligence evolved due to complex interactions with other individuals.

After presenting individual, mature magpies with a series of cognitive tasks it was found that those from larger, more social groups displayed greater cognitive ability, completing the tasks with a greater higher rate of success.

“The studies also show a positive relationship between female intelligence and reproductive
success, indicating there is the potential for natural selection to act on intelligence,” says Dr Ashton.

“Together, these results support the idea that the social environment plays an important role in cognitive evolution.”

Read the paper in Nature.


Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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