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Early life learning ability predicts adult social structure, with potential implications for fitness outcomes in the wild

Citation

Langley, Ellis J. G. et al. (2020), Early life learning ability predicts adult social structure, with potential implications for fitness outcomes in the wild, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.k3j9kd53x

Abstract

1. Social environments influence important ecological processes and can determine how selection acts on traits. Cognitive abilities can shape these social environments and in turn, affect individuals' fitness. 2. To understand how cognitive abilities evolve, we need to understand the complex interplay between an individual's cognitive abilities, the social environment that they inhabit and the fitness consequences of these relationships. 3. We measured the associative learning ability of pheasant chicks, Phasianus colchicus, then released them into the wild where we quantified their social position by observing their associations at feeding stations and monitored the number of days survived. 4. We observed disassortative mixing by learning performance at the population level, and poor learners had more associates than good learners. Learning was beneficial for survival when focal individuals had fewer than four associates, but survival probability across learning abilities equalized for individuals with more than four associates. 5. While the mechanisms underlying these relationships remain to be determined, the patterns of association exhibited by pheasants at feeders can be predicted by individual variation in cognitive performances and we suspect these patterns are related to differences in information use. Critically, these resulting patterns of association have fitness consequences for individuals that cannot be explained directly by their cognitive ability, but which could mediate selection on cognition.

Funding

European Research Council, Award: 616474