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Despite growing research effort, we have a limited understanding of how urban disturbance factors affect cognitive traits, such as innovative problem-solving. We performed an initial assessment of how metal pollution and urbanization levels on territories are related to problem-solving performance in urban great tits (Parus major), by presenting an obstacle removal test at nest boxes in three urban nest box populations that are exposed to different levels of metal pollution. We predicted that problem-solving capacity might be reduced within the most polluted population due to pollution-related neurological impairments. On the other hand, we predicted that problem-solving might positively correlate with urban disturbance levels on territories, because some past research suggests that problem-solving promotes persistence in urbanized habitats. We also assessed relationships between exploratory personality type, behavioral patterns during tests, and problem-solving performance, and examined the repeatability and fitness correlates of problem-solving. We found no evidence that behavioral patterns or problem-solving performance were related to metal exposure or exploratory personality, or that problem-solving promotes reproductive success. However, birds on territories exposed to more urban disturbance, as quantified by proximity to paths and roads, were more likely to problem-solve. Moreover, an aggressive problem-solving approach negatively predicted problem-solving success, and behavioral patterns during tests and problem-solving success were repeatable. Thus, rather than indicating negative effects of pollution or urban disturbance on problem-solving performance, our study provides preliminary support for the hypothesis that urbanization favors innovative problem-solving, and suggests that problem-solving could be associated with a personality dimension independent of exploratory personality. Copyright © 2020 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Andrea S Grunst, Melissa L Grunst, Rianne Pinxten, Marcel Eens. Sources of individual variation in problem-solving performance in urban great tits (Parus major): Exploring effects of metal pollution, urban disturbance and personality. The Science of the total environment. 2020 Dec 20;749:141436

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PMID: 32841856

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