Remember those friends you never saw anymore after they got hitched? Not in geese.
In our recently published preprint we show that barnacle geese keep hanging out with there favourite early-life social companions also after they pair up. Females show a break during the breeding season but display their social preferences again in the following winter. Males keep their prefered companions throughout the breeding and wintering season and these companionships were predicted by familiarity and genetic relatedness.
We also show that especially males were aggressive during the breeding season towards both males and females and this possibly hampered their female partners to hang out with their own ‘friends’ during breeding but not winter.
In summary, our study reveals the robustness of social bonds formed early in life, carrying over across pair formation, even after extended temporal disruptions. Our findings thus highlight how the early-life social environment can have life-long consequences on individuals’ social life, even in monogamous species.
RHJM Kurvers, L Prox, DR Farine, C Jongeling, L Snijders (2019)
When it comes to finding patchy and sporadic food resources, being at the right place at the right time is of the essence. Our recent paper published in the Journal of Animal Ecology provides experimental field evidence that male guppies (Poecilia reticulata), in the presence of females, more often reach sporadically available food patches. In contrast, female guppies did not reach more (or less) food patches in the presence of males.
“Imagine you are in a new city and looking for a place to have a good meal, what do you do? You can walk around and see what restaurants you encounter, but chances are that this will take a lot of time and you might still end up at a mediocre place. Alternatively, you can see where others are going. When you have incomplete information about your environment, taking advantage of the information of others (i.e. social information) can be incredibly helpful.”
Many animals find themselves in situations of incomplete information about where to find resources, for example, because important resources are patchy and sporadically distributed. One such animal is the Trinidadian guppy.
Trinidadian guppies live in rainforest streams. Those guppies that live in the resource-poor sections of the streams can take advantage of high-quality food resources, such as fruits and insects that fall sporadically into the water. But such resources are difficult to find. Interestingly, a previous study we discovered that guppies that spent more time near others were more successful in locating these unpredictable food resources. Possibly, spending time with conspecifics results in greater exposure to social information about when and where to find important resources.
But in this study, we also found that males reached more food patches than females, particularly males that were in groups with proportionally more females. The presence of females may have increased the time male guppies spent socially and consequently affected how many novel food patches they reached.
To experimentally test if sex composition indeed influences social time and food discovery, we conducted a new study in which we manipulated the guppy sex compositions (all male, all female or mixed) in the wild. For a total of 18 experimental guppy groups, we performed social observations and foraging trials.
First, we tested whether sex composition affected food patch discovery in individual males and females. This was true for males, which reached more food patches when there were females present. Females reached a similar number of patches either with or without males present. Second, we tested whether sex composition affected the time an individual male or female spent socially. The variation in time spent socially mirrored variation in patch discovery, with males spending less time socially in the absence of females, but no effects again for females. Third, we analysed if this time spent socially was linked to patch discovery success. Indeed, in agreement with our previous study, more social guppies reached more food patches.
Conclusion: The foraging success of an individual thus depended on a combination of its own sex and the sex composition of its social environment.
Take home message: When hungry—and male—spending time in the company of females can get you at just the right place at the right time.
Our newest open access paper on repeatability of avian signalling (song) traits just came online in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.
Repeatability, consistent individual differences, in signalling behaviour is interesting because it means that those receiving the signal (i.e. listening to the song) could reliably learn something about how the individual singer compares to other singers/competitors.
We repeatedly recorded the dawn song of great tit males throughout the breeding season and show that start time of dawn song and repertoire size are individually repeatable both before and during the egg-laying stage of the mate (when she is fertile). Surprisingly the time a male started singing appeared to be more repeatable (consistent) than repertoire size, despite that the start time was also influenced by variable overnight temperatures. Start time was also more repeatable before than during egg-laying and we suggest that this is related to the behaviour of the (assumingly) intended receivers of the song, the females.
For a subset of the singers, we also explored a potential link between the absolute song trait values, the repeatability of these values and personality. We did not find a link but follow-up studies with a larger sample size, and including additional song traits, will be needed to confirm the true absence of such a link.
Our systematic map protocol, outlining the background and methods of our approach to map and review the effectiveness of animal conditioning interventions in reducing human-wildlife conflict, is now online.
This map is part of a special initiative of a team of behavioural ecologists, who all committed to systematically map and/or review a topic in conservation behaviour. Read more about our plans and the protocols of the other team members here.
“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge” – Thomas Berger –
Tanja Straka and I like asking questions. Even more so, we like animals, nature and people. Unfortunately, these three do not always mix well and we want to learn why.
Coming from our respective backgrounds in social sciences and animal sciences, we want to learn about the ins and outs of wildlife conservation conflicts by exploring different perspectives. Because we are convinced that understanding the diverse aspects of conservation conflicts could also open our minds to a diversity of (new) ways to address them.
For Valentine’s Day, two colleagues and I conducted a fun writing exercise: we made a loving tribute to our study animals. Thank you, Cecilia and Tanja for all the fun!
Here is my little poetic contribution:
A Biologist Love Story
Who do I love the most? I cannot choose
My first love affair was with a barnacle goose
We spent a whole winter together, out in the cold
With only a blanket and each other to hold
But in the end, I still had to let you loose
Then came you, with your beautiful black tie
Oh, dazzling great tit, you certainly weren’t shy
Many days we spent, together in the wood
We had so much fun, those times were good
But in the end, we still had to say goodbye
To forget my sorrow, I travelled very far
And in the tropical waters, I found my little star
Pretty little guppy, it was love at first sight
In the dark rainforest, you are my shiny light
I can’t stop thinking of you, it is very bizarre
Even so, I feel alone with you far away
I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to say
Suddenly, a stranger appeared in the middle of the night
A bat swooped me off my feet and took me to a great height
What will happen, who should I choose at the end of the day?
Last year, I unexpectedly received an invitation to give a plenary at the Swedish Oikos Meeting in Uppsala. A plenary is a presentation for which all the conference members come together. It usually lasts 45 minutes + 15 minutes questions. Commonly these types of presentations are given by ‘silverbacks’, people with an impressive track record in academia. So imagine my surprise to receive such an invitation.
Why me? Are you sure you did not mistake me for someone else? What could I possibly have to say that a whole conference could find interesting? A little voice in my head was whispering: “RUN”. Then, shortly after my initial shock and fear, I realized what a great opportunity it could be. Not just for me, but for early-career woman researchers in general. Showing that we do have something interesting and inspiring to say.
So I started focussing on my presentation. I quickly decided on the main topic and the structure. For me, visualizing a tree helped a lot. ‘Animal social networks’ would be my trunk, ’causes’, ‘consequences’ and ‘applications/future directions’ my main branches, my studies the twigs and pretty pictures, quotes and movie clips the leaves. A good friend told me about SlideCarnival.com, a website with really cool free powerpoint templates and one of them I used to inspire my own. Personally, I like a bit of humour in a presentation, so I also decided that I needed manipulated pictures of movie stars, to refer to my study species (of course). Incorporating humour and beautiful pictures is mostly a tool for me because it makes me really enjoy making the presentation even if the audience would not actually care so much about it.
It took quite a bit of time to get the number of slides right because I was not used to giving a presentation of that length. And then I needed to practice, practice, practice. For this, I figured that I (of course) needed my own remote clicker/pointer. It’s maybe a bit nerdy, but I can really recommend this to everyone!
And then it was time to give the presentation. I was very nervous, but not paralysing. I had met the organisation, the other plenary speakers and some other participants at the conference the day before and they were all very nice people. Knowing that there would be kind and interested people in the audience helped me a lot in calming down and actually enjoying giving my talk. Still, I thought I saw a lot of uninterested and sceptical faces while I was speaking. Luckily, I know from experience with other (shorter) talks, that this is usually just in my head and I managed to not let it influence me too much.
The talk went very well, I think. I forgot some things (I always do), but nothing essential. And afterwards, I got a lot of positive feedback. Of course, nobody (except for sadists) would come to you afterwards and say your talk sucked. But overall I had a really good feeling about it. I was very happy that I had accepted the invitation and felt ‘brave’ in a way.
I hope that more and more conferences will also start giving early-careers an opportunity to present themselves and their work via a plenary. We do have some interesting things to say :-).