Home Science Female Budgerigars prefer males with stronger cognitive abilities

Female Budgerigars prefer males with stronger cognitive abilities

Problem-solving males become more attractive to female budgerigars.

Cognitive Abilities could affect mate preference among budgerigars, suggests a new study.

In the process of sexual selection, women hope to find a smart and able partner, so cognitive ability is an important criterion for mate choice. Therefore, the evolution related to cognitive ability is not only the result of natural selection but also the result of sexual selection.

In 1871, Darwin proposed a hypothesis in the book ‘The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex’, but it was literally difficult to obtain evidence from other animals to explain the problem. For further exploration, scientists from the Research Group of Avian Ecology in the Institute of Zoology conducted study on the budgerigars.

The budgerigars in the lab. (Image by IOZ)
The budgerigars in the lab. (Image by IOZ)

Studying for almost four years, scientists confirmed that the cognitive ability of birds can also be used as a criterion for sexual selection. It provides important enlightenment for people to better understand the evolution of cognition.

During the study, female budgerigars were allowed to pick one of the two guys she favored. Amid a 4-day duration, females invested more energy with her favored males.

Scientists then help unfavored males to learn two feeding techniques, opening the Petri dishes and a small box with three steps.

After one week, unfavored males returned to the females. The researchers asked the female to see how the returning males could easily open the boxes for food (Picture B), and how the male they had previously preferred was bewildered in front of the boxes (Picture C). After several days of observation, the researchers gave the female a chance to select again.

A: roblem-solving devices: the petri dish and the three-step box. B: he female observing a trained male opening the petri dish. C: focal female observing an untrained male trying unsuccessfully to open the dish. (Image by IOZ)
A: roblem-solving devices: the petri dish and the three-step box. B: he female observing a trained male opening the petri dish. C: focal female observing an untrained male trying unsuccessfully to open the dish. (Image by IOZ)

In the second time, the decision of the females changed altogether, and they altered their opinions and were eager to invest more energy with previous unfavoured males. Did the power of ‘wisdom’ truly assist the males with regaining the support of the females?

To confirm this, the analysts likewise led two arrangements of similar examinations. In one group, the females were permitted to see the open boxes of the males that were not favored, while the favored males were given just the empty boxes.

As a result, the females did not change their original choice or insisted on favoring the original ones. This suggests that food itself was not the reason for the change. In the second group, females were asked to select two females. The experiment was consistent with the initial procedure, with only two selected males being replaced with females.

The results showed that the female did not change her preference for “best friend” after observing her feeding skills referring that the selection is related to sex.

The study shows that direct observation of cognitive skills can affect animal mate selection, which supports the hypothesis started from Darwin that mate choice may affect the evolution of animal cognitive characteristics.

The coauthors of the study include Dr. CHEN Jiani, ZOU Yuqi and Prof. SUN Yuehua from Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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