Smarter Aussie magpies in larger groups suggest intelligence link: research

SYDNEY, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Wild Australian magpies that live in larger groups are smarter than those from smaller ones, suggesting that the demands of living in complex social networks may have a part in the development of intelligence, according to research findings released on Thursday.

Smarter females of the common Australian bird were also found to have higher reproductive rates, according to the study by the University of Western Australia and England's University of Exeter.

"The challenges of living in complex social groups have long been seen as drivers of cognitive evolution, however evidence to support this is contentious, and has recently been called into question," the Australian university quoted its lead researcher Dr Ben Ashton as saying.

"Our results suggest that the social environment plays a key role in the development of cognition."

The study, published in the journal Nature and touted as one of the first of its kind "to conduct large-scale cognitive tests on wild populations and find a strong link between cognition, group size and reproductive success," involved 14 wild groups of Australian magpies, ranging from three to 12 birds. The researchers used cognitive tasks such as finding food in containers to test the birds' learning, memory and other abilities.

Magpies are a ubiquitous sight in Australian cities. The intelligent birds, which are a protected native species, are also known for swooping down on humans and animals such as pet dogs that get too close to their nests during the breeding season, from late August to October.

[ Editor: WPY ]


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