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Participants: Prof John A Endler (PI) Andy T D Bennett
Aims and background: Bowerbird males construct and decorate structures (bowers) in order to attract females for mating. The structure of the bower and the arrangement of the objects on the bower is complex in Great Bowerbirds, and includes the use of specific visual perspective as seen by the female while she is inside the bower avenue watching the male display near the avenue entrance. We do not know whether the construction of this visual perspective is done directly by the bird, or is learned by trial and error. We also do not know whether or not the quality of the visual perspective, and the associated visual contrast, predicts reproductive success. The aim of this project is to find the critical parameters of bower design and relate it to the cognitive ability of these birds. We will also compare the design with other bowerbird species which build less complex bowers using phylogenetics.
Scientific significance and innovation: The Corvida branch of the Passerines includes Crows, Ravens, and Jays as well as Bowerbirds, and these are renowned for their cognitive ability which includes complex use of spatial memory, solving of complex geometrical problems, use of tools, and construction of complex structures. The cognitive aspects of building and production of visual effects such as perspective for the viewpoint of other individuals has not yet been investigated. This study will combine methods, concepts and mathematical modelling from phylogenetics, comparative biology, visual physiology, visual ecology, avian biology, animal behaviour, behavioural ecology, evolutionary biology, and biophysics.
Potential national benefit and strategic alignment with the aims of the CIE: This will advance our understanding of the evolution of cognition, as well as giving us more understanding of how cognition evolves, using the phylogenetic comparative method. The putative integrative nature of this project is central to the aims of the CIE, combining ecology, evolution, and physiology.