What makes innovative animals innovative?
The environment around us is constantly changing, and as humans we are capable of adapting to these changes, finding new ways to overcome difficulties that we encounter, and using what we already know in response to new challenges. However, we are not the only species capable of doing this. There are many examples of how animals can solve problems they encounter and use knowledge in new ways. A key factor for this is innovation ability. Species that possess innovation ability are more likely to adapt to unexpected environmental changes. Innovation ability, however, varies between species, populations, and even individuals within populations. Although studies on innovative ability have indicated its importance for adaptation and fitness, it is still largely unclear why some animals are capable of coming up with extraordinary solutions to problems whereas others are not.
The project will investigate which key factors make some animals more innovative than others. Until now, studies have generally focused on innovation ability as a factor on its own and very little is known about how various cognitive and behavioural traits co-operate in their effect on innovation ability. In this project the innovation ability will be considered as a combination of several cognitive and behavioural processes that are affected by both environmental and genetic factors. The project will combine a comparative with a within-species approach. We will use three members of the Paridae family as the model species: the great tit (Parus major), blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) and marsh tit (Poecile palustris). These species are closely related but have fundamental differences in their foraging behaviour and cognitive abilities. We will test how performance in several behavioural and cognitive tasks co-vary with performance in innovative problem solving tasks.
Specifically, the project aims to answer the following questions;
1. What are the cognitive and behavioural traits that underlie innovation ability?
2. How does the environment influence innovation ability?
3. Are innovativeness and its associated traits heritable?
4. What other aspects contribute to innovative problem solving ability?