Behavioural flexibility predicts invasion success in birds introduced to New Zealand


  • Daniel Sol,

  • Louis Lefebvre

D. Sol, Departament de Biologia Animal (Vertebrats), Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 645, E-08028 Barcelona, Spain ( – L. Lefebvre, Dept of Biology, McGill Univ., 1205 avenue Docteur Penfield, Montrèal, PQ, Canada H3A 1B1.


A fundamental question in ecology is whether there are evolutionary characteristics of species that make some better than others at invading new communities. In birds, nesting habits, sexually selected traits, migration, clutch size and body mass have been suggested as important variables, but behavioural flexibility is another obvious trait that has received little attention. Behavioural flexibility allows animals to respond more rapidly to environmental changes and can therefore be advantageous when invading novel habitats. Behavioural flexibility is linked to relative brain size and, for foraging, has been operationalised as the number of innovations per taxon reported in the short note sections of ornithology journals. Here, we use data on avian species introduced to New Zealand and test the link between forebrain size, feeding innovation frequency and invasion success. Relative brain size was, as expected, a significant predictor of introduction success, after removing the effect of introduction effort. Species with relatively larger brains tended to be better invaders than species with smaller ones. Introduction effort, migratory strategy and mode of juvenile development were also significant in the models. Pair-wise comparisons of closely related species indicate that successful invaders also showed a higher frequency of foraging innovations in their region of origin. This study provides the first evidence in vertebrates of a general set of traits, behavioural flexibility, that can potentially favour invasion success.