Date Published: January 22, 2010
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Nicole Cadieu, Stéphane Fruchard, Jean-Claude Cadieu, Nathan Jon Emery. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0008841
Abstract: Feeding innovation occurs when individuals choose a novel, unknown type of food and/or acquire new feeding skills. Here we studied feeding innovation and social transmission of the new feeding habit in canaries. Adult canaries eat a wide variety of seeds but avoid larger ones such as those of sunflowers. We determined whether adults of both sexes are equally prone to innovate when confronted with sunflower seeds and whether free-interactions facilitate transmission of the new feeding habit in a sex-dependent manner.
Partial Text: Innovation in animal behavior is defined as the process that results in new or modified learned behavior and that introduces novel behavioral variants into a population’s repertoire . Focusing on individual behavior, Ramsey et al.  stated that “innovation is the process that generates in an individual a novel learned behavior that is not simply a consequence of social learning or environmental induction”. Taken together, these definitions underline the role of innovation in the way that animals interact with their environment. Innovative behavior may indeed lead to new morphological, behavioral and physiological adaptations in animals .
All the experimental procedures comply with French laws governing experiments on animals. Experiments on canaries were carried out in our laboratory under license from the French Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The birds did not lose weight during the experiment and were housed in individual cages to avoid aggression.
We studied innovative feeding behavior in canaries, which do not spontaneously consume sunflower seeds. We determined which sex was more innovative and incorporated these seeds to their diet and studied if and how this newly acquired feeding habit was socially transmitted. Sunflower-seed consumption only occurred in males during a familiarization period. In contrast, females rarely ate this seed, thus showing a clear sex dependency of feeding habit innovation. Factors like age, weight or variations in individual strength did not account for this result (Table 1). A decrease in neophobia  cannot explain the acquisition of the new feeding habit as males and females manipulated during the familiarization conditions and only males learned how to husk sunflower seeds.