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Title: Influences on the food-storing behaviour of the grey squirrel : an investigation into social cognition
Author: Hopewell, Lucy Joanne
ISNI:       0000 0004 2676 8448
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2008
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This thesis investigated whether a food-storing mammal, the eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), uses social cognitive skills in relation to its caching behaviour and explored whether social cognition really is a specialized adaptation that differs from other cognition by examining how social and non-social learning differ. The influence of social factors on the natural caching behaviour of wild squirrels was studied in the field and the effects of conspecific presence on specific aspects of caching behaviour (learning, memory and recovery) were investigated by testing captive squirrels in the laboratory on social learning and one-trial learning tasks. The squirrels were found to be able to learn by observing a conspecific and learned to make a logical choice more readily than an illogical one. They showed no such bias in a comparable non-social task. They responded flexibly to the presence of conspecifics both in the wild and in the laboratory but the results can be interpreted in terms of responses to observable cues rather than as evidence of higher cognitive skills. In total, this thesis suggests that squirrels use unsophisticated social cognitive strategies in relation to their caching but, the difference found in learning under social and non-social conditions suggests that, although not a highly social species, grey squirrels are particularly prepared to form certain associations with social cues. This offers some support to the theory that factors other than social complexity may lead to the development of the ability to process social information highly effectively.
Supervisor: Leaver, Lisa ; Wills, Andy ; Lea, Stephen Sponsor: School of Psychology, University of Exeter
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Scatter-hoarding ; Grey squirrel ; Social cognition