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March 12, 2007

Avian apprenticeships

Add to the list of amazingly human-like behaviors that various birds exhibit the act of apprenticeship. New research shows that unrelated manakins engage in cooperative courtship displays where the beta male doesn't get any action as a result, but learns the tricks of a good courtship display so that he can become a successful alpha somewhere else. So, in addition to the many other reasons why cooperation might emerge (many of which have game-theoretic explanations), we can now add training for future dominance. Fascinating. From DuVal's conclusions:

Lance-tailed manakin courtship displays are long and complex, and interactions with experienced males may be a critical component of learning display behavior. In accord with this hypothesis, beta males are generally younger than their alpha partners. Consistent performance of courtship displays with a successful alpha partner may allow betas to develop effect and appropriate displays that enhance their subsequent success as alphas. In systems such as this, in which factors other than kinship select for complicated cooperative behavior, long-term strategies to maximize future fitness may depend on social affiliations that reinforce the evolution of complex social structure.

E. H. DuVal, Adaptive Advantages of Cooperative Courtship for Subordinate Male Lance-Tailed Manakins. The American Naturalist 169, 423-432 (2007).

(Tip to Ars Technica.)

posted March 12, 2007 01:22 AM in Obsession with birds | permalink