Research Lines
Delayed dispersal

Cooperation at the nestBrood parasitimssociality and cognition









Social environment, cooperation and cognition


Recent investigation on different corvid species has revealed surprisingly advanced cognitive abilities that sometimes rival those of non-human primates. Corvids proved to be able to solve novel problems by using their memory on previous experience, their learning capability and their ability to create innovations. Furthermore, in some species (such as western jays Aphelocoma californica and ravens Corvus corax), the individuals proved to possess the "theory of mind",

Sociality is though to be a key factor promoting the evolution of intelligence, which appears to be more advanced in species that live in stable groups. However, the adaptive function of intelligence in these species is not yet clear, as it is not fully known how these cognitive abilities are used in nature, what kind of problems they contribute to solve, and how they influence individual decisions in a changing social environment.

We are addressing questions about social environment, cognitive abilities, adaptive function of intelligence and cooperative solution of problems in carrion crows, which are known as extremely intelligent birds and also show a natural plasticity in social behaviour. In particular, we are currently addressing questions on the ontogeny of caching, pilfering end defence of food and objects, and on the effect of the social situation of these behaviours. To do so, we are studying social groups of crows hand-raised since nestlings and kept in captivity. Our aviary consists in 4 big compartments (12 x 6 mt) where our crows are housed, and 8 smaller experimental rooms (3 x 3 mt each) where we carry out our observations. Our colony currently consists on 13 crows (including 6 pairs of siblings) of both sexes.

This study was funded by the European Foundation of Science as part of the international Eurocores project "Cooperation in Corvids" in collaboration with other six universities: Viena (Austria), Cambridge (UK), Roma (Italy), Strasbourg (France), Tilburg (Holland), Vermont (USA) and is currently supported by a research grant by The Junta of Castilla y León (Spain). In this project, biologists, primatologists, and economists combine studies on ethology, evolutionary ecology, theoretic economy and robotics in order to explain the evolutionary processes and the cognitive mechanisms favouring cooperation in corvid species that show different social organizations. This international project belongs to a general investigation framework on cooperation and commerce that represents the general topic of the TECT European program.