Heritability of cognitive performance in wild Western Australian magpies

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Individual differences in cognitive performance can have genetic, social and environmental components. Most research on the heritability of cognitive traits comes from humans or captive non-human animals, while less attention has been given to wild populations. Western Australian magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen dorsalis, hereafter magpies) show phenotypic variation in cognitive performance, which affects reproductive success. Despite high levels of individual repeatability, we do not know whether cognitive performance is heritable in this species. Here, we quantify the broad-sense heritability of associative learning ability in a wild population of Western Australian magpies. Specifically, we explore whether offspring associative learning performance is predicted by maternal associative learning performance or by the social environment (group size) when tested at three time points during the first year of life. We found little evidence that offspring associative learning performance is heritable, with an estimated broad-sense heritability of just -0.046 ± 0.084 (confidence interval: -0.234/0.140). However, complementing previous findings, we find that at 300 days post-fledging, individuals raised in larger groups passed the test in fewer trials compared with individuals from small groups. Our results highlight the pivotal influence of the social environment on cognitive development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number231399
Number of pages10
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2024


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