The Ecological Significance of Tool Use in New Caledonian Crows

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Science  17 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5998, pp. 1523-1526
DOI: 10.1126/science.1192053

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Tool use is so rare in the animal kingdom that its evolutionary origins cannot be traced with comparative analyses. Valuable insights can be gained from investigating the ecological context and adaptive significance of tool use under contemporary conditions, but obtaining robust observational data is challenging. We assayed individual-level tool-use dependence in wild New Caledonian crows by analyzing stable isotope profiles of the birds’ feathers, blood, and putative food sources. Bayesian diet-mixing models revealed that a substantial amount of the crows’ protein and lipid intake comes from prey obtained with stick tools—wood-boring beetle larvae. Our calculations provide estimates of larva-intake rates and show that just a few larvae can satisfy a crow’s daily energy requirements, highlighting the substantial rewards available to competent tool users.

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