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Proc Biol Sci. 2018 Jul 11;285(1882). pii: 20181017. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2018.1017.

Wild acorn woodpeckers recognize associations between individuals in other groups.

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Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA.
New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection, Trenton, NJ 08625, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529, USA.
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


According to the social intelligence hypothesis, understanding the cognitive demands of the social environment is key to understanding the evolution of intelligence. Many important socio-cognitive abilities, however, have primarily been studied in a narrow subset of the social environment-within-group social interactions-despite the fact that between-group social interactions often have a substantial effect on fitness. In particular, triadic awareness (knowledge about the relationships and associations between others) is critical for navigating many types of complex social interactions, yet no existing study has investigated whether wild animals can track associations between members of other social groups. We investigated inter-group triadic awareness in wild acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus), a socially complex group-living bird. We presented woodpeckers with socially incongruous playbacks that simulated two outsiders from different groups calling together, and socially congruous playbacks that simulated two outsiders from the same group calling together. Subjects responded more quickly to the incongruous playbacks, suggesting that they were aware that the callers belonged to two different groups. This study provides the first demonstration that animals can recognize associations between members of other groups under natural circumstances, and highlights the importance of considering how inter-group social selection pressures may influence the evolution of cognition.


acorn woodpecker; playback; social cognition; social intelligence hypothesis; triadic awareness; vocal recognition

[Available on 2019-07-11]

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