Individual exploratory responses are not repeatable across time or context for four species of food-storing corvid.
ABSTRACT: Exploration is among one of the most studied of animal personality traits (i.e., individual-level behavioural responses repeatable across time and contexts). However, not all species show clear evidence of this personality trait, and this is particularly so for members of the Corvidae family. We assessed the exploratory behaviour of four food-caching corvid species: pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus), Clark's nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana), California scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica), and black-billed magpies (Pica hudsonia). Contextual repeatability was assessed through examining behavioural measures during the Novel Environment task and the Novel Object task, whereas temporal repeatability was assessed by examining changes in these measures over repeated trials. Our results suggest that, for corvids, an individual's exploratory behaviour was not repeatable across contexts or over time. Hence, we found no evidence that exploration constitutes a personality trait for these species of corvid. We did find differences in exploratory behaviour, at a species level, that may be explained by relative reliance on cached food.
Project description:Many species exhibit prosocial behaviour, in which one individual's actions benefit another individual, often without an immediate benefit to itself. The neuropeptide oxytocin is an important hormonal mechanism influencing prosociality in mammals, but it is unclear whether the avian homologue mesotocin plays a similar functional role in birds. Here, we experimentally tested prosociality in pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus), a highly social corvid species that spontaneously shares food with others. First, we measured prosocial preferences in a prosocial choice task with two different pay-off distributions: Prosocial trials delivered food to both the subject and either an empty cage or a partner bird, whereas Altruism trials delivered food only to an empty cage or a partner bird (none to subject). In a second experiment, we examined whether administering mesotocin influenced prosocial preferences. Compared to choices in a control condition, we show that subjects voluntarily delivered food rewards to partners, but only when also receiving food for themselves (Prosocial trials), and administration of high levels of mesotocin increased these behaviours. Thus, in birds, mesotocin seems to play a similar functional role in facilitating prosocial behaviours as oxytocin does in mammals, suggesting an evolutionarily conserved hormonal mechanism for prosociality.
Project description:Quantifying consistent differences in behaviour among individuals is vital to understanding the ecological and evolutionary significance of animal personality. To quantify personality, the phenotypic variation of a behavioural trait is partitioned to assess how it varies among individuals, which is also known as repeatability. If pedigree data are available, the phenotypic variation can then be further partitioned to estimate the additive genetic variance and heritability. Assessing the repeatability and heritability of personality traits therefore allows for a better understanding of what natural selection can act upon, enabling evolution. In a natural population of facultative cooperatively breeding Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis) on Cousin Island, a lack of breeding vacancies forces individuals into different life-history strategies, and these differences in reproductive state could generate behavioural differences among individuals in the population. We used this population to estimate the repeatability of 4 behavioural traits (novel environment exploration, novel object exploration, obstinacy/struggle rate, and escape response), and narrow-sense heritability (of behavior, h2B; behavior minus observer variance; and personality), and evolvability, of the repeatable behavioural traits. We also tested for an among-individual correlation between the repeatable traits. We found that, compared to estimates in other study species, the exploratory behaviours were moderately repeatable (0.23-0.37), there was a positive among-individual correlation (0.51) between novel environment and novel object exploration, and that novel environment exploration was moderately heritable (0.17; h2B was low as it includes observer variance). This study further clarifies the additive genetic variance available for selection to act upon in this cooperatively breeding bird.
Project description:Corvids (birds in the crow family) are hypothesised to have a general cognitive tool-kit because they show a wide range of transferrable skills across social, physical and temporal tasks, despite differences in socioecology. However, it is unknown whether relatively asocial corvids differ from social corvids in their use of social information in the context of copying the choices of others, because only one such test has been conducted in a relatively asocial corvid. We investigated whether relatively asocial Eurasian jays (<i>Garrulus glandarius</i>) use social information (i.e., information made available by others). Previous studies have indicated that jays attend to social context in their caching and mate provisioning behaviour; however, it is unknown whether jays copy the choices of others. We tested the jays in two different tasks varying in difficulty, where social corvid species have demonstrated social information use in both tasks. Firstly, an object-dropping task was conducted requiring objects to be dropped down a tube to release a food reward from a collapsible platform, which corvids can learn through explicit training. Only one rook and one New Caledonian crow have learned the task using social information from a demonstrator. Secondly, we tested the birds on a simple colour discrimination task, which should be easy to solve, because it has been shown that corvids can make colour discriminations. Using the same colour discrimination task in a previous study, all common ravens and carrion crows copied the demonstrator. After observing a conspecific demonstrator, none of the jays solved the object-dropping task, though all jays were subsequently able to learn to solve the task in a non-social situation through explicit training, and jays chose the demonstrated colour at chance levels. Our results suggest that social and relatively asocial corvids differ in social information use, indicating that relatively asocial species may have secondarily lost this ability due to lack of selection pressure from an asocial environment.
Project description:A fundamental question about the complexity of corvid social cognition is whether behaviours exhibited when caching in front of potential pilferers represent specific attempts to prevent cache loss (cache protection hypothesis) or whether they are by-products of other behaviours (by-product hypothesis). Here, we demonstrate that Eurasian jays preferentially cache at a distance when observed by conspecifics. This preference for a 'far' location could be either a by-product of a general preference for caching at that specific location regardless of the risk of cache loss or a by-product of a general preference to be far away from conspecifics due to low intra-species tolerance. Critically, we found that neither by-product account explains the jays' behaviour: the preference for the 'far' location was not shown when caching in private or when eating in front of a conspecific. In line with the cache protection hypothesis we found that jays preferred the distant location only when caching in front of a conspecific. Thus, it seems likely that for Eurasian jays, caching at a distance from an observer is a specific cache protection strategy.
Project description:Individual animals frequently exhibit repeatable differences from other members of their population, differences now commonly referred to as 'animal personality'. Personality differences can arise, for example, from differences in permanent environmental effects--including parental and epigenetic contributors--and the effect of additive genetic variation. Although several studies have evaluated the heritability of behaviour, less is known about general patterns of heritability and additive genetic variation in animal personality. As overall variation in behaviour includes both the among-individual differences that reflect different personalities and temporary environmental effects, it is possible for personality to be largely genetically influenced even when heritability of behaviour per se is quite low. The relative contribution of additive genetic variation to personality variation can be estimated whenever both repeatability and heritability are estimated for the same data. Using published estimates to address this issue, we found that approximately 52% of animal personality variation was attributable to additive genetic variation. Thus, while the heritability of behaviour is often moderate or low, the heritability of personality is much higher. Our results therefore (i) demonstrate that genetic differences are likely to be a major contributor to variation in animal personality and (ii) support the phenotypic gambit: that evolutionary inferences drawn from repeatability estimates may often be justified.
Project description:Previous research has suggested that videos can be used to experimentally manipulate social stimuli. In the present study, we used the California scrub-jays' cache protection strategies to assess whether video playback can be used to simulate conspecifics in a social context. In both the lab and the field, scrub-jays are known to exhibit a range of behaviours to protect their caches from potential pilferage by a conspecific, for example by hiding food in locations out of the observer's view or by re-caching previously made caches once the observer has left. Here, we presented scrub-jays with videos of a conspecific observer as well as two non-social conditions during a caching period and assessed whether they would cache out of the observer's "view" (Experiment 1) or would re-cache their caches once the observer was no longer present (Experiment 2). In contrast to previous studies using live observers, the scrub-jays' caching and re-caching behaviour was not influenced by whether the observer was present or absent. These findings suggest that there might be limitations in using video playback of social agents to mimic real-life situations when investigating corvid decision making.
Project description:A crucial assumption of animal personality research is that behaviour is consistent over time, showing a high repeatability within individuals. This assumption is often made, sometimes tested using short time intervals between behavioural tests, but rarely thoroughly investigated across long time intervals crossing different stages of ontogeny. We performed such a longitudinal test across three life stages in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), representing about 15-20% of their life span in captivity, and found repeatabilities ranging from 0.03 to 0.67. Fearlessness and exploration were the most repeatable traits both within and across life stages. Activity and aggression were repeatable across, but not or only partly within life stages. Boldness was not repeatable. Furthermore, we found no evidence for a consistent behavioural syndrome structure across ontogeny. Our results indicate that the consistency of behavioural traits and their correlations might be overestimated and suggest that life-long stability of animal personality should not simply be assumed.
Project description:Animals that cache food risk having their stored food pilfered by conspecifics. Previous research has shown that a number of food-caching species of corvid use strategies that decrease the probability of conspecifics pilfering their caches. In this experiment, we investigated whether Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) would choose between caching behind an opaque and caching behind a transparent barrier whilst being observed by a conspecific. If caching in out-of-sight locations is a strategy to prevent conspecifics from pilfering these caches, then the jays should place a greater proportion of caches behind the opaque barrier when being observed than when caching in private. In accordance with this prediction, jays cached a greater proportion of food behind the opaque barrier when they were observed than when they cached in private. These results suggest that Eurasian jays may opt to cache in out-of-view locations to reduce the likelihood of conspecifics pilfering their caches.
Project description:In species that are subject to brood parasitism, individuals often vary in their responses to parasitic eggs, with some rejecting the eggs while others do not. While some factors, such as host age (breeding experience), the degree of egg matching and the level of perceived risk of brood parasitism have been shown to influence host decisions, much of the variation remains unexplained. The host personality hypothesis suggests that personality traits of the host influence its response to parasitic eggs, but few studies have tested this. We investigated the relationship between two personality traits (exploration and neophobia) and a physiological trait (breathing rate) of the host, and egg-rejection behaviour in a population of Daurian redstarts <i>Phoenicurus auroreus</i> in northeast China. We first show that exploratory behaviour and the response to a novel object are repeatable for individual females and strongly covary, indicating distinct personality types. We then show that fast-exploring and less neophobic hosts were more likely to reject parasitic eggs than slow-exploring and more neophobic hosts. Variation in breathing rate-a measure of the stress-response-did not affect rejection behaviour. Our results demonstrate that host personality, along the bold-shy continuum, predicts the responses to parasitic eggs in Daurian redstarts, with bold hosts being more likely to reject parasitic eggs.
Project description:Background:Birdsong, a key model in animal communication studies, has been the focus of intensive research. Song traits are commonly considered to reflect differences in individual or territory quality. Yet, few studies have quantified the variability of song traits between versus within individuals (i.e. repeatability), and thus whether certain song traits indeed provide reliable individual-specific information. Here, we studied the dawn chorus of male great tits (Parus major) to determine if key song traits are repeatable over multiple days and during different breeding stages. Additionally, we examined whether repeatability was associated with exploration behaviour, a relevant personality trait. Finally, we tested if variation in song traits could be explained by breeding stage, lowest night temperature, and exploration behaviour. Results:We show that the start time of an individual's dawn song was indeed repeatable within and across breeding stages, and was more repeatable before, than during, their mate's egg laying stage. Males started singing later when the preceding night was colder. Daily repertoire size was repeatable, though to a lesser extent than song start time, and no differences were observed between breeding stages. We did not find evidence for an association between exploration behaviour and variation in dawn song traits. Repertoire composition, and specifically the start song type, varied across days, but tended to differ less than expected by chance. Conclusions:Our findings that individuals consistently differ in key song traits provides a better understanding of the information receivers can obtain when sampling songs of different males. Surprisingly, start time, despite being influenced by a highly variable environmental factor, appeared to be a more reliable signal of individual differences than repertoire size. Against expectation, singers were more repeatable before than during their mate's egg laying stage, possibly because before egg laying, females are less constrained to move around unguarded and thus may then already sample (and compare) different singers. Combining repeated dawn song recordings with spatial tracking could reveal if the sampling strategies of receivers are indeed important drivers of repeatability of song traits. Such a complementary approach will further advance our insights into the dynamics and evolution of animal signalling systems.