Social learning and networks in Nestor parrots
Social learning and network analyses are theorised to be of great utility in the context of behavioural conservation. For example, harnessing a species’ capacity for social learning may allow researchers to seed useful information into populations, while network analyses could provide a useful tool to monitor community stability, and predict pathways of pathogen transfer. Thus, an understanding of how individuals learn and the nature of the social networks within a population could enable the development of new behavioural based conservation interventions for species facing rapid environmental change, such as human-induced habitat modification. Parrots, the most threatened avian order worldwide, are notably underrepresented in the social learning and social network literature. This thesis addresses this knowledge gap by exploring social learning and networks using two endangered species of parrot; kākā (Nestor meridionalis) and kea (Nestor notabilis). The first study explores social learning of tool use in captive kea, using a trained kea demonstrator. The results from this experiment indicate that both social learning and play behaviour facilitated the uptake of tool use, and suggests that kea are highly sensitive to social information even when presented with complex tasks. The second study assesses whether wild kākā can socially learn novel string-pulling and food aversion behaviours from video playbacks of conspecific demonstrators. Although there was no evidence to indicate that kākā learn socially, these individuals also show no notable reaction to video playback of a familiar predator. Therefore, these results are likely due to difficulties in interpreting information on the screens, and not necessarily a reflection of their ability to perceive social information. In the final study, social network analysis (SNA) was performed to map social connectivity within wellington’s urban kākā population. SNA indicates that kākā form non-random social bonds, selectively associating with some individuals more than others, and also show high levels of dissimilarity in community composition at different feeding sites. Taken together, these results provide rare empirical evidence of social learning in a parrot species and suggest that even complicated seeded behaviours can quickly spread to other individuals. These findings may also be indicative of the difficulties in conducting video playback experiments in wild conditions, which is an area in need of future research. Overall, these findings contribute to the very limited body of research on social learning and networks in parrots, and provide information of potential value in the management of these species.