Evolution of cognitive abilities in animals, with a focus on tool use in birds

Identifying the environmental and social factors that drove the evolution of human and animal intelligence is of great interest in the field of cognitive biology. The use of tools is prominent in this debate. Whether certain social or ecological demands (like tool use) led to domain-specific cognitive adaptations still is an open and debated question From 2007-2013, we tested the hypothesis that enhanced physical cognitive abilities evolved in conjunction with the use of tools, by comparing the performance of naturally tool-using and non-tool-using species in a suite of physical and general learning tasks. We predicted that the habitually tool-using species, New Caledonian crows and Galápagos woodpecker finches, should outperform their non-tool-using relatives, the small tree finches and the carrion crows in a physical problem but not in general learning tasks. We only found a divergence in the predicted direction for corvids which is in line with the prediction that adaptions to tool use are more likely in species that show complex tool modification (Teschke et al.. 2013). Our results also indicate that the cognitive abilities relevant for tool use preceded the evolution of this extraordinary foraging technique [Tebbich et al. 2010 ,Teschke et al. 2011)

Researcher: Sabine Tebbich