Social learning within and across predator species reduces attacks on novel aposematic prey.
ABSTRACT: To make adaptive foraging decisions, predators need to gather information about the profitability of prey. As well as learning from prey encounters, recent studies show that predators can learn about prey defences by observing the negative foraging experiences of conspecifics. However, predator communities are complex. While observing heterospecifics may increase learning opportunities, we know little about how social information use varies across predator species. Social transmission of avoidance among predators also has potential consequences for defended prey. Conspicuous aposematic prey are assumed to be an easy target for naïve predators, but this cost may be reduced if multiple predators learn by observing single predation events. Heterospecific information use by predators might further benefit aposematic prey, but this remains untested. Here we test conspecific and heterospecific information use across a predator community with wild-caught blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and great tits (Parus major). We used video playback to manipulate social information about novel aposematic prey and then compared birds' foraging choices in 'a small-scale novel world' that contained novel palatable and aposematic prey items. We expected that blue tits would be less likely to use social information compared to great tits. However, we found that both blue tits and great tits consumed fewer aposematic prey after observing a negative foraging experience of a demonstrator. In fact, this effect was stronger in blue tits compared to great tits. Interestingly, blue tits also learned more efficiently from watching conspecifics, whereas great tits learned similarly regardless of the demonstrator species. Together, our results indicate that social transmission about novel aposematic prey occurs in multiple predator species and across species boundaries. This supports the idea that social interactions among predators can reduce attacks on aposematic prey and therefore influence selection for prey defences.
Project description:Nonlethal predator effects arise when individuals of a prey species adjust their behaviour due to the presence of predators. Non-lethal predator effects have been shown to affect social group structure and social behaviour as well as individual fitness of the prey. In this experimental study, we used model sparrowhawks to launch attacks on flocks of wild great tits and blue tits whilst monitoring their social dynamics. We show that nonlethal attacks caused instantaneous turn-over and mixing of group composition within foraging flocks. A single experimental 'attack' lasting on average less than three seconds, caused the amount of turn-over expected over three hours (2.0-3.8?hours) of undisturbed foraging. This suggests that nonlethal predator effects can greatly alter group composition within populations, with potential implications for social behaviour by increasing the number of potential interaction partners, as well as longer-term consequences for pair formation and emergent effects determined by social structure such as information and disease transmission. We provide the first evidence, to our knowledge, based on in depth monitoring of a social network to comprehensively support the hypothesis that predators influence the social structure of groups, which offers new perspectives on the key drivers of social behaviour in wild populations.
Project description:Predation can significantly affect prey populations and communities, but predator effects can be attenuated when abiotic conditions interfere with foraging activities. In estuarine communities, turbidity can affect species richness and abundance and is changing in many areas because of coastal development. Many fish species are less efficient foragers in turbid waters, and previous research revealed that in elevated turbidity, fish are less abundant whereas crabs and shrimp are more abundant. We hypothesized that turbidity altered predatory interactions in estuaries by interfering with visually-foraging predators and prey but not with organisms relying on chemoreception. We measured the effects of turbidity on the predation rates of two model predators: a visual predator (pinfish, Lagodon rhomboides) and a chemosensory predator (blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus) in clear and turbid water (0 and ?100 nephelometric turbidity units). Feeding assays were conducted with two prey items, mud crabs (Panopeus spp.) that rely heavily on chemoreception to detect predators, and brown shrimp (Farfantepenaus aztecus) that use both chemical and visual cues for predator detection. Because turbidity reduced pinfish foraging on both mud crabs and shrimp, the changes in predation rates are likely driven by turbidity attenuating fish foraging ability and not by affecting prey vulnerability to fish consumers. Blue crab foraging was unaffected by turbidity, and blue crabs were able to successfully consume nearly all mud crab and shrimp prey. Turbidity can influence predator-prey interactions by reducing the feeding efficiency of visual predators, providing a competitive advantage to chemosensory predators, and altering top-down control in food webs.
Project description:Many animals reduce the risk of being attacked by a predator through crypsis, masquerade or, alternatively, by advertising unprofitability by means of aposematic signalling. Behavioural attributes in prey employed after discovery, however, signify the importance of also having an effective secondary defence if a predator uncovers, or is immune to, the prey's primary defence. In butterflies, as in most animals, secondary defence generally consists of escape flights. However, some butterfly species have evolved other means of secondary defence such as deimatic displays/startle displays. The European swallowtail, Papilio machaon, employs what appears to be a startle display by exposing its brightly coloured dorsal wing surface upon disturbance and, if the disturbance continues, by intermittently protracting and relaxing its wing muscles generating a jerky motion of the wings. This display appears directed towards predators but whether it is effective in intimidating predators so that they refrain from attacks has never been tested experimentally.In this study we staged encounters between a passerine predator, the great tit, Parus major, and live and dead swallowtail butterflies in a two-choice experiment. Results showed that the dead butterfly was virtually always attacked before the live butterfly, and that it took four times longer before a bird attacked the live butterfly. When the live butterfly was approached by a bird this generally elicited the butterfly's startle display, which usually caused the approaching bird to flee. We also performed a palatability test of the butterflies and results show that the great tits seemed to find them palatable.We conclude that the swallowtail's startle display of conspicuous coloration and jerky movements is an efficient secondary defence against small passerines. We also discuss under what conditions predator-prey systems are likely to aid the evolution of deimatic behaviours in harmless and palatable prey.
Project description:Diets play a key role in understanding trophic interactions. Knowing the actual structure of food webs contributes greatly to our understanding of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. The research of prey preferences of different predators requires knowledge not only of the prey consumed, but also of what is available. In this study, we applied DNA metabarcoding to analyze the diet of 4 bird species (willow tits Poecile montanus, Siberian tits Poecile cinctus, great tits Parus major and blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus) by using the feces of nestlings. The availability of their assumed prey (Lepidoptera) was determined from feces of larvae (frass) collected from the main foraging habitat, birch (Betula spp.) canopy. We identified 53 prey species from the nestling feces, of which 11 (21%) were also detected from the frass samples (eight lepidopterans). Approximately 80% of identified prey species in the nestling feces represented lepidopterans, which is in line with the earlier studies on the parids' diet. A subsequent laboratory experiment showed a threshold for fecal sample size and the barcoding success, suggesting that the smallest frass samples do not contain enough larval DNA to be detected by high-throughput sequencing. To summarize, we apply metabarcoding for the first time in a combined approach to identify available prey (through frass) and consumed prey (via nestling feces), expanding the scope and precision for future dietary studies on insectivorous birds.
Project description:Prey often evolve defences to deter predators, such as noxious chemicals including toxins. Toxic species often advertise their defence to potential predators by distinctive sensory signals. Predators learn to associate toxicity with the signals of these so-called aposematic prey, and may avoid them in future. In turn, this selects for mildly toxic prey to mimic the appearance of more toxic prey. Empirical evidence shows that mimicry could be either beneficial ('Mullerian') or detrimental ('quasi-Batesian') to the highly toxic prey, but the factors determining which are unknown. Here, we use state-dependent models to explore how tri-trophic interactions could influence the evolution of prey defences. We consider how predation risk affects predators' optimal foraging strategies on aposematic prey, and explore the resultant impact this has on mimicry dynamics between unequally defended species. In addition, we also investigate how the potential energetic cost of metabolising a toxin can alter the benefits to eating toxic prey and thus impact on predators' foraging decisions. Our model predicts that both how predators perceive their own predation risk, and the cost of detoxification, can have significant, sometimes counterintuitive, effects on the foraging decisions of predators. For example, in some conditions predators should: (i) avoid prey they know to be undefended, (ii) eat more mildly toxic prey as detoxification costs increase, (iii) increase their intake of highly toxic prey as the abundance of undefended prey increases. These effects mean that the relationship between a mimic and its model can qualitatively depend on the density of alternative prey and the cost of metabolising toxins. In addition, these effects are mediated by the predators' own predation risk, which demonstrates that, higher trophic levels than previously considered can have fundamental impacts on interactions among aposematic prey species.
Project description:Toxic prey that signal their defences to predators using conspicuous warning signals are called 'aposematic'. Predators learn about the toxic content of aposematic prey and reduce their attacks on them. However, through regulating their toxin intake, predators will include aposematic prey in their diets when the benefits of gaining the nutrients they contain outweigh the costs of ingesting the prey's toxins. Predators face a problem when managing their toxin intake: prey sharing the same warning signal often vary in their toxicities. Given that predators should avoid uncertainty when managing their toxin intake, we tested whether European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) preferred to eat fixed-defence prey (where all prey contained a 2% quinine solution) to mixed-defence prey (where half the prey contained a 4% quinine solution and the other half contained only water). Our results support the idea that predators should be more 'risk-averse' when foraging on variably defended prey and suggest that variation in toxicity levels could be a form of defence.
Project description:Video playback is becoming a common method for manipulating social stimuli in experiments. Parid tits are one of the most commonly studied groups of wild birds. However, it is not yet clear if tits respond to video playback or how their behavioural responses should be measured. Behaviours may also differ depending on what they observe demonstrators encountering. Here we present blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) videos of demonstrators discovering palatable or aversive prey (injected with bitter-tasting Bitrex) from coloured feeding cups. First we quantify variation in demonstrators' responses to the prey items: aversive prey provoked high rates of beak wiping and head shaking. We then show that focal blue tits respond differently to the presence of a demonstrator on a video screen, depending on whether demonstrators discover palatable or aversive prey. Focal birds faced the video screen more during aversive prey presentations, and made more head turns. Regardless of prey type, focal birds also hopped more frequently during the presence of a demonstrator (compared to a control video of a different coloured feeding cup in an empty cage). Finally, we tested if demonstrators' behaviour affected focal birds' food preferences by giving individuals a choice to forage from the same cup as a demonstrator, or from the cup in the control video. We found that only half of the individuals made their choice in accordance to social information in the videos, i.e., their foraging choices were not different from random. Individuals that chose in accordance with a demonstrator, however, made their choice faster than individuals that chose an alternative cup. Together, our results suggest that video playback can provide social cues to blue tits, but individuals vary greatly in how they use this information in their foraging decisions.
Project description:Theoretical models of predator-prey systems predict that sufficient enrichment of prey can generate large amplitude limit cycles, paradoxically causing a high risk of extinction (the paradox of enrichment). Although real ecological communities contain many gregarious species, whose foraging behaviour should be influenced by socially transmitted information, few theoretical studies have examined the possibility that social foraging might resolve this paradox. I considered a predator population in which individuals play the producer-scrounger foraging game in one-prey-one-predator and two-prey-one-predator systems. I analysed the stability of a coexisting equilibrium point in the one-prey system and that of non-equilibrium dynamics in the two-prey system. The results revealed that social foraging could stabilize both systems, and thereby resolve the paradox of enrichment when scrounging behaviour (i.e. kleptoparasitism) is prevalent in predators. This suggests a previously neglected mechanism underlying a powerful effect of group-living animals on the sustainability of ecological communities.
Project description:Species distributions shift northwards due to climate change, but the ecological mechanisms allowing range expansions are not fully understood. Most studies have concentrated on breeding seasons, but winter warming may also be important. Wintering distributions are restricted by food availability and temperature, which may also interact. Foraging in cold conditions requires adaptations as individuals have to be efficient in foraging, while staying warm and vigilant for predators. When the ambient temperature declines, foraging rates should be reduced due to increased time spent on warming behaviours. In addition, predator vigilance should decline, because more time has to be invested in foraging. Cold weather should limit northward expanding southern species in particular, while northern species should perform better in cold conditions. We tested this by studying temperature responses (between 0 and -?35 °C) among wintering birds at feeders. We compared foraging behaviours of two northward expanding southern species, the great tit (Parus major) and the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) to a northern species, the willow tit (Poecile montanus). Foraging rate and vigilance decreased, and warming behaviour increased when temperatures declined. Importantly, the performance in these traits was poorer in the southern species compared to the willow tit. Furthermore, the response to decreasing temperatures in foraging rates and warming behaviour was stronger in the great tits than willow tits. As the winters become warmer, these mechanisms should increase wintering success of southern species wintering at high latitudes, and lead to higher survival, increased population growth, and consequent range expansion.
Project description:Behavioral ecologists and evolutionary biologists have long studied how predators respond to prey items novel in color and pattern. Because a predatory response is influenced by both the predator's ability to detect the prey and a post-detection behavioral response, variation among prey types in conspicuousness may confound inference about post-prey-detection predator behavior. That is, a relatively high attack rate on a given prey type may result primarily from enhanced conspicuousness and not predators' direct preference for that prey. Few studies, however, account for such variation in conspicuousness. In a field experiment, we measured predation rates on clay replicas of two aposematic forms of the poison dart frog Dendrobates pumilio, one novel and one familiar, and two cryptic controls. To ask whether predators prefer or avoid a novel aposematic prey form independently of conspicuousness differences among replicas, we first modeled the visual system of a typical avian predator. Then, we used this model to estimate replica contrast against a leaf litter background to test whether variation in contrast alone could explain variation in predator attack rate. We found that absolute predation rates did not differ among color forms. Predation rates relative to conspicuousness did, however, deviate significantly from expectation, suggesting that predators do make post-detection decisions to avoid or attack a given prey type. The direction of this deviation from expectation, though, depended on assumptions we made about how avian predators discriminate objects from the visual background. Our results show that it is important to account for prey conspicuousness when investigating predator behavior and also that existing models of predator visual systems need to be refined.