Informed Birds at Behaviour 2017

Behaviour is a great conference - it encompasses the full breadth of Tinbergen's Four Questions. This means that we can learn new things about mechanisms from people with a stronger background in animal psychology, and mix with new developments in our understanding of the evolutionary function of animal behaviour.  

All of our Informed Birds presented this year at Behaviour 2017.  If you missed us, here's a summary:


Victoria Franks - do hihi juveniles conform TO Local foraging traditions?

  1. Young naïve animals can learn socially about food, but we don’t know who they pay attention to: for example, parents or peers?
  2. My study species is the hihi, a passerine. Young hihi spend two weeks with parents after fledging, so could learn about food from them.
  3. Young hihi also form groups once independent from parents, so could learn about food when socialising with peers.
  4. I asked: do juveniles learn from parents, do they keep this behaviour once independent or do they change how they forage with peers?
  5. First, at nests hihi parents and fledglings learned about a two-option feeder (food/no-food), one-option feeder (food), or stayed naïve.
  6. Fledglings only used feeders if their parents did, and copied their parents’ learned preference for the food option.
  7. When juveniles left parents and formed two groups, I used two-option feeders (food/food) to test if nest experiences affected foraging.
  8. Hihi didn’t keep their parents’ preference, but those from nests with feeders did use group feeders earlier than naïve peers.
  9. To begin there was no bias in option use. As time went by one was used more, but this was the opposite option in the two groups!
  10. If hihi moved groups, they changed their behaviour to the new groups’ preferred option, especially when it was being used by more hihi.
  11. To sum up: young animals can learn about food with parents, but once independent they change foraging behaviour to match local peers.

Liisa Hämäläinen - if predators feel toxic, do they pay more attention to social information about food?

  1. To avoid aposematic prey, predators need to learn to associate their signal with unpalatability – how do they gather this information?
  2. Predators can sample prey themselves or use social information from others.
  3. Social information use can lower the cost of prey warning colouration because fewer prey need to be killed to educate predators.
  4. Questions: 1) Does a predator's toxin load affect information use? 2) How do educated predators use social information?
  5. Wild great tits shown social information using video playback in temporary captivity, then birds forage in ‘novel world’ that contains 2 types of artificial prey: 1) palatable and cryptic, 2) unpalatable and conspicuous.
  6. We manipulated birds’ toxin load (high/low) before providing social information of unpalatable prey (info/control).
  7. Birds that received social information saw a demonstrator eating unpalatable prey and showing a clear disgust response; controls saw prey only.
  8. We predicted birds with an increased toxin load should be more likely to use social information and attack fewer unpalatable prey.
  9. But, toxin load did not affect foraging choices; regardless of toxin load, socially educated birds attacked fewer unpalatable prey.
  10. Next we investigated if birds reversed their learned avoidance faster after receiving social information of same prey being palatable.
  11. In nature educated predators could get conflicting social information if they observed another individual consuming a Bayesian mimic.
  12. We predicted that educated birds would attack more previously unpalatable prey after seeing a demonstrator eating it happily.
  13. We found that individuals were reluctant to reverse their learned aversion, regardless of social information.
  14. Summary: birds use social information about prey defences regardless of their toxin load and are reluctant to switch learned preferences.
  15. Social information use by predators can reduce predation on novel aposematic prey but is unlikely to affect mimic-model dynamics.

Caitlin Andrews - how do dietary specialisations change in a novel environment? 

 Click  here  to see a close-up of Caitlin's poster

Click here to see a close-up of Caitlin's poster


Rose Thorogood - Social transmission helps explain the evolution of warning coloration 

  1. Many animals learn to avoid food by observing bad experiences of others, but what does this mean for prey?
  2. With Johanna Mappes, we asked (1)Does social information reduce the cost of conspicuousness?
  3. Use video playback to manipulate social information before wild great tits must forage in a "novel world" for tasty, but cryptic, or conspicuous but unpalatable food.
  4. Social information from another predator's disgust reduces predation risk for the unpalatable prey.
  5. Next, Hanna Kokko used model to address: Can this effect facilitate the evolution of aposematism?
  6. Social transmission means fewer prey must be killed for predator population to learn, effect is even stronger if predators and prey can move.
  7. Now we ask, What are the consequences of social transmission across prey communities? (see Liisa's talk above).
  8. And, how can this work across a predator-prey community? (with Hannah Rowland).
  9. Blue tits are ecologically similar to great tits, but don't use social information as much.
  10. Pay attention to video playback, and make quicker decisions, although the decision itself is not different from random (Hämäläinen et al. PeerJ 2017).
  11. What's next? testing social transmission of avoidance in the wild using network-based diffusion.