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Problem-solving males become more attractive to female budgerigars

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Science  11 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 166-167
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau8181

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Who's a clever boy then?

There is considerable value in choosing a smart mate. The suggestion that mate choice has thus shaped the evolution of cognition has been around since Darwin's time, but testing this hypothesis is difficult. Chen et al. found that female budgerigars shifted their preference to previously nonpreferred males after these males demonstrated the ability to solve a problem that stumped the originally preferred males (see the Perspective by Striedter). This preference shift was specific to problem-solving and to choosing males.

Science, this issue p. 166; see also p. 120

Abstract

Darwin proposed that mate choice might contribute to the evolution of cognitive abilities. An open question is whether observing the cognitive skills of an individual makes it more attractive as a mate. In this study, we demonstrated that initially less-preferred budgerigar males became preferred after females observed that these males, but not the initially preferred ones, were able to solve extractive foraging problems. This preference shift did not occur in control experiments in which females observed males with free access to food or in which females observed female demonstrators solving these extractive foraging problems. Our results suggest that direct observation of problem-solving skills increases male attractiveness and that this could contribute to the evolution of the cognitive abilities underlying such skills.

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