Juvenile socio-ecological environment shapes material technology in nest-building birds

Alexis J Breen, Keren E Lovie, Chloé Guerard, Sophie C Edwards, Jasmine Cooper, Susan D Healy, Lauren M Guillette

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5 Citations (Scopus)
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Variation in animal material technology, such as tool use and nest construction, is thought to be caused, in part, by differences in the early-life socio-ecological environment—that is, who and what is around—but this developmental hypothesis remains unconfirmed. We used a tightly controlled developmental paradigm to determine whether adult and/or raw-material access in early life shape first-time nest construction in laboratory-bred zebra finches Taeniopygia guttata at sexual maturity. We found that juvenile access to both an unrelated adult and raw material of one color led to a majority preference (75%) by novice builders for this color of material over that for either natal-nest or novel-colored material, whereas a lack of juvenile access to both an unrelated adult and raw material led to a 4- and nearly 3-fold reduction in the speed at which novice builders initiated and completed nest construction, respectively. Contrary to expectation, neither the amount of time juveniles nor their adult groupmate spent handling the raw material appear to drive these early-life effects on zebra finches’ first-time nest construction, suggesting that adult presence might be sufficient to drive the development of animal material technology. Together these data show that the juvenile socio-ecological environment can trigger variation in at least two critical aspects of animal material technology (material preference and construction speed), revealing a potentially powerful developmental window for technological advancement. Thus, to understand selection on animal material technology, the early-life environment must be considered.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberaraa027
JournalBehavioral Ecology
VolumeAdvance Articles
Early online date30 Apr 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Apr 2020


  • Animal material technology
  • Nest construction
  • Early-life environment
  • Material preference
  • Construction speed
  • Technological evolution


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