February 7, 2018, University of Exeter
Growing up in a large social group makes Australian magpies more intelligent, new research shows.
Using four tasks to test intelligence, scientists from the University of Exeter and the University of Western Australia found wild Australian magpies from larger groups showed "elevated cognitive performance".
The study also found more intelligent females produced more offspring.
The research suggests that the demands of living in complex social groups may play a role in the evolution of intelligence.
"Australian magpies - from Western Australia, where we conducted our research - live in stable social groups," said Dr Alex Thornton, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
"We showed that individuals living in larger groups in the wild show elevated cognitive performance, which in turn is linked to increased reproductive success.
"Repeated testing of juveniles at different ages showed that the link between group size and intelligence emerged in early life."
Researchers examined 14 wild groups of Australian magpies (Western Australian subspecies Cracticus tibicen dorsalis) in Perth, ranging in size from three to 12 birds.