Discovery of species-wide tool use in the Hawaiian crow
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Only a handful of bird species are known to use foraging tools in the wild1. Amongst them, the New Caledonian crow (Corvus moneduloides) stands out with its sophisticated tool-making skills2, 3. Despite considerable speculation, the evolutionary origins of this species’ remarkable tool behaviour remain largely unknown, not least because no naturally tool-using congeners have yet been identified that would enable informative comparisons4. Here we show that another tropical corvid, the ‘Alalā (C. hawaiiensis; Hawaiian crow), is a highly dexterous tool user. Although the ‘Alalā became extinct in the wild in the early 2000s, and currently survives only in captivity5, at least two lines of evidence suggest that tool use is part of the species’ natural behavioural repertoire: juveniles develop functional tool use without training, or social input from adults; and proficient tool use is a species-wide capacity. ‘Alalā and New Caledonian crows evolved in similar environments on remote tropical islands, yet are only distantly related6, suggesting that their technical abilities arose convergently. This supports the idea that avian foraging tool use is facilitated by ecological conditions typical of islands, such as reduced competition for embedded prey and low predation risk4, 7. Our discovery creates exciting opportunities for comparative research on multiple tool-using and non-tool-using corvid species. Such work will in turn pave the way for replicated cross-taxonomic comparisons with the primate lineage, enabling valuable insights into the evolutionary origins of tool-using behaviour.
Rutz , C , Klump , B C , Komarczyk , L , Leighton , R , Kramer , J , Wischnewski , S , Sugasawa , S , Morrissey , M B , James , R , St Clair , J , Switzer , R A & Masuda , B M 2016 , ' Discovery of species-wide tool use in the Hawaiian crow ' Nature , vol 537 , no. 7620 , pp. 403-407 . DOI: 10.1038/nature19103
© 2016, the Author(s). This work has been made available online in accordance with the publisher’s policies. This is the author created, accepted version manuscript following peer review and may differ slightly from the final published version. The final published version of this work is available at www.nature.com / https://doi.org/10.1038/nature19103
Funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK (BBSRC; grant BB/G023913/2 to C.R., and studentship to B.C.K.), the University of St Andrews (C.R.), JASSO (S.S.), and the Royal Society of London (M.B.M.). Funding for thecaptive ‘Alala propagation programme was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hawai‘i Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Moore Family Foundation, Marisla Foundation, several anonymous donors, and San Diego Zoo Global.
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