February 14, 2018, University of Exeter
Dominant male pheasants learn faster than their downtrodden rivals, new research shows.
A group of 18 male pheasants - vying for the attention of 16 females - were repeatedly placed in front of two tunnels, and had to remember which was clear and which was blocked.
The researchers, from the University of Exeter, found dominant males were better at remembering which tunnel was clear - with top third of males 40% more successful at the task than the least dominant third.
It is unknown whether dominance makes males better learners, males become dominant because they are better at learning, or both are due to other characteristics.
"The higher a male pheasant's social rank, the better their performance on this task," said Ellis Langley, of Exeter's Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour. "They each tried the task 14 times, and by the end of the experiment the more dominant males were more accurate overall. "We can't be certain why this happens. One possibility is that the dominant males are higher quality individuals - and these qualities include both cognitive function and social dominance.
"It's also possible that pheasants differ in stress levels according to their social rank, so subordinate malesmay be more stressed and have less energy to devote to learning."Future research will explore these possibilities."