Variation in response to environmental cues when foraging

Herborn, Katherine (2010) Variation in response to environmental cues when foraging. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Animals often respond differently to the same environmental cues. Where behavioural responses
differ consistently between individuals over time or contexts, this is “personality”. In wild
animals, personality is linked to variation in fitness and survival. Predictions on the behavioural
mechanisms underlying this variation come from captive studies, on the often untested
assumption that captive behaviour reveals how animals would behave in the wild. In chapter 2,
using blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) I tested first whether behaviour in captivity predicted
foraging behaviour in the wild. I measured the personality traits neophobia (latency to feed in
novel scenarios) and exploratory tendency, first by relatively standard captive protocols and
second, using an electronic monitoring system at feeding stations, by novel wild methods. As
predicted, analogous traits correlated across contexts. Moreover, neophobia and exploratory
tendency were uncorrelated within individuals in both contexts, in contrast to many other species.
In captive studies, personality types also respond differently to changing environmental cues, or
“environmental sensitivity”: neophobic and non-exploratory types adjust behaviour whilst
neophilic and exploratory types maintain foraging routines. In chapter 3, I tested this second
captive prediction in the wild, defining environmental sensitivity in the wild by changes in feeder
use with varying air temperature or food supply. Neophobic and, contrary to expectation,
exploratory blue tits were most environmentally sensitive. By contrast, neophilic and nonexploratory
birds visited feeders at a fixed level independent of temperature and continued to visit
feeders for a prolonged period even after they were emptied. Age and body size also influenced
environmental sensitivity, suggesting learning and dominance interactions modify the expression
of personality in the wild. From potential behavioural costs, in chapter 4 I turned to the
physiological costs of personality. Variation in metabolic rate and stress metabolism may be
proximate mechanisms for personality. Whilst these physiological traits are linked to oxidative
stress directly, with pro-oxidants that damage body tissue a by-product of metabolism, few
studies link personality to oxidative stress. I found that oxidative profile (pro-oxidants,
antioxidants, oxidative stress and oxidative damage) and hence physiological costs differed notonly within traits but also related differently to neophobia and object exploration in captive-bred
greenfinches (Carduelis chloris). Finally, variation in response to environmental cues may reflect
differences in learning between individuals, as perhaps illustrated by age differences in
environmental sensitivity (Chapter 3). In chapters 5 and 6, I investigated whether learning that a
feeding site is temporally stable could cause changes in response to food appearance (“local
cues”) when foraging. I predicted that birds would re-find food by spatial rather than local cues in
these scenarios, as appearance can change hence local cues become unreliable over time. In
chapter 5, I carried out an associative learning test to test this prediction in captive-bred
greenfinches. Within a simple foraging scenario, the prediction was upheld: greenfinches
favoured local cues in situations where the temporal stability of food was unknown, but switched
to spatial cues when temporal stability was learnt through repeated encounters. In chapter 6
though, four of five wild bird species foraging at temporally stable bird feeders continued to
respond to local cues, selecting feeders on the basis of colour. Most species were biased toward
red feeders, and also responded to social cues when finding feeders: foraging strategies better
suited to finding ephemeral food than re-finding temporally stable feeding sites. I suggest that
wild birds use information on temporal stability from the broader environment (i.e. natural
ephemeral food beyond temporally stable artificial feeders). This illustrates how animals may not
necessarily forage in the wild as we would expect within specific contexts. Throughout this thesis
therefore, my findings illustrate the importance of testing predictions generated from captive
behaviour in the wild. Moreover, identifying variation in both the foraging strategies and
physiological costs to individual variation in behaviour, this thesis provides new insight into the
adaptive significance of animal personality.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Personality, cue selection, oxidative stress, behavioural syndromes, exploration, neophobia, Cyanistes caeruleus, Carduelis chloris
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Arnold, Dr. Kathryn and Alexander, Dr. Lucille
Date of Award: 2010
Depositing User: dr katherine herborn
Unique ID: glathesis:2010-2159
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2010
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:52

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