Project description:Western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) live double lives, storing food for the future while raiding the stores of other birds. One tactic scrub-jays employ to protect stores is "re-caching"-relocating caches out of sight of would-be thieves. Recent computational modelling work suggests that re-caching might be mediated not by complex cognition, but by a combination of memory failure and stress. The "Stress Model" asserts that re-caching is a manifestation of a general drive to cache, rather than a desire to protect existing stores. Here, we present evidence strongly contradicting the central assumption of these models: that stress drives caching, irrespective of social context. In Experiment (i), we replicate the finding that scrub-jays preferentially relocate food they were watched hiding. In Experiment (ii) we find no evidence that stress increases caching. In light of our results, we argue that the Stress Model cannot account for scrub-jay re-caching.
Project description:OBJECTIVE:Hybrid zones are geographic regions where genetically distinct taxa interbreed, resulting in offspring of mixed ancestry. California Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma californica) and Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays (A. woodhouseii) come into secondary contact and hybridize in western Nevada. Although previous work investigated divergence and gene flow between these species using a handful of microsatellite markers, the hybrid zone has not been studied using genome-scale markers, providing an opportunity to assess genome-wide introgression, test for a genetic basis for ecomorphological traits, and compare these estimates to those derived from microsatellites. RESULTS:Using variant sites flanking ultraconserved elements (UCEs), we performed population assignment and quantified hybrid ancestry for 16 individuals across the zone of secondary contact. Our study included 2468 SNPs distributed throughout the genome, allowing discrimination of genetic affinities of hybrid individuals that were similar to estimates from microsatellites. We show a relationship between bill and wing length and the genetic composition of individuals that was not found in prior work using microsatellites, suggesting a genetic basis for these traits. Our analyses demonstrate the utility of UCEs for the analysis of hybrid zones and provide a basis for future studies to identify the genomic architecture of speciation and phenotypic differences between these incipient species.
Project description:String-pulling is a widely used paradigm in animal cognition research to assess what animals understand about the functionality of strings as a means to obtain an out-of-reach reward. This study aimed to systematically investigate what rules Western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) use to solve different patterned string tasks, i.e. tasks in which subjects have to choose between two or more strings of which only one is connected to the reward, or where one is more efficient. Arranging strings in a parallel configuration showed that the jays were generally capable of solving multiple-string tasks and acted in a goal-directed manner. The slanted and crossed configurations revealed a reliance on a "proximity rule", that is, a tendency to choose the string-end closest to the reward. When confronted with strings of different lengths attached to rewards at different distances the birds chose according to the reward distance, preferring the reward closest to them, and were sensitive to the movement of the reward, but did not consistently prefer the shorter and therefore more efficient string. Generally, the scrub-jays were successful in tasks where the reward was closest to the string-ends they needed to pull or when string length and reward distance correlated, but the birds had problems when the wrong string-end was closest to the reward or when the food items were in close proximity to each other. These results show that scrub-jays had a partial understanding of the physical principles underlying string-pulling but relied on simpler strategies such as the proximity rule to solve the tasks.
Project description:Understanding the genomic consequences of population decline is important for predicting species' vulnerability to intensifying global change. Empirical information about genomic changes in populations in the early stages of decline, especially for those still experiencing immigration, remains scarce. We used 7834 autosomal SNPs and demographic data for 288 Florida scrub jays (<i>Aphelocoma coerulescens</i>; FSJ) sampled in 2000 and 2008 to compare levels of genetic diversity, inbreeding, relatedness, and lengths of runs of homozygosity (ROH) between two subpopulations within dispersal distance of one another but have experienced contrasting demographic trajectories. At Archbold Biological Station (ABS), the FSJ population has been stable because of consistent habitat protection and management, while at nearby Placid Lakes Estates (PLE), the population declined precipitously due to suburban development. By the onset of our sampling in 2000, birds in PLE were already less heterozygous, more inbred, and on average more related than birds in ABS. No significant changes occurred in heterozygosity or inbreeding across the 8-year sampling interval, but average relatedness among individuals decreased in PLE, thus by 2008 average relatedness did not differ between sites. PLE harbored a similar proportion of short ROH but a greater proportion of long ROH than ABS, suggesting one continuous population of shared demographic history in the past, which is now experiencing more recent inbreeding. These results broadly uphold the predictions of simple population genetic models based on inferred effective population sizes and rates of immigration. Our study highlights how, in just a few generations, formerly continuous populations can diverge in heterozygosity and levels of inbreeding with severe local population decline despite ongoing gene flow.