Innovative problem solving by wild spotted hyenas

Innovative problem solving by wild spotted hyenasInnovative problem solving by wild spotted hyenas

Sarah Benson-Amram and Kay E. Holekamp

 

Innovative animals are those able to solve novel problems or invent novel solutions to existing problems.
Despite the important ecological and evolutionary consequences of innovation, we still know very little
about the traits that vary among individuals within a species to make them more or less innovative.
Here we examine innovative problem solving by spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) in their natural habitat,
and demonstrate for the first time in a non-human animal that those individuals exhibiting a greater diversity
of initial exploratory behaviours are more successful problem solvers. Additionally, as in earlier work,
we found that neophobia was a critical inhibitor of problem-solving success. Interestingly, although juveniles
and adults were equally successful in solving the problem, juveniles were significantly more diverse in
their initial exploratory behaviours, more persistent and less neophobic than were adults. We found no
significant effects of social rank or sex on success, the diversity of initial exploratory behaviours, behavioural
persistence or neophobia. Our results suggest that the diversity of initial exploratory behaviours,
akin to some measures of human creativity, is an important, but largely overlooked, determinant of
problem-solving success in non-human animals.

 

1. INTRODUCTION
Innovation—solving a novel problem or finding a new solution
to an existing problem—allows animals to exploit
novel resources or to use current resources more efficiently
[1–3]. Innovation thus improves the ability of animals to
survive in complex or changing environments, and to
explore and create new niches [4]. Despite the important
ecological and evolutionary consequences of innovation
[1,5], within-species variation in innovative tendencies
remains poorly understood [6]. Innovations are rarely
observed in the field both because of their rare and unpredictable
nature, and also because recognizing an act as an
innovation requires a comprehensive knowledge of the behaviour
of the study species, which may require thousands
of hours of behavioural observations [7]. In order to better
understand the behavioural and cognitive processes underlying
innovation among captive animals, researchers have
adopted the strategy of inducing innovation by presenting
individuals with a novel problem-solving task [3,8–13].
Although a few studies have now demonstrated individual
variation in problem-solving abilities [3,6,11,14,15],
we still know very little about the characteristics that vary
among individual conspecifics to make them more or less
innovative [13].

 

Innovative problem solving by wild spotted hyenas

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