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.
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 :-).
After my good experience with the first preprint publication, I recently uploaded my second preprint on the BioRxiv server. I am really excited to share these cool new findings, especially since this study almost did not happen.
Fieldwork is always full of surprises, including flash floods (2018) and cars being stolen (2016). The year of this study (2017), we got stuck on Curacao because our airline was grounded (due to airplane safety concerns, we found out later). Curacao is a great island to spend some time, but it just lacked our favourite little fish: guppies. Luckily, we were able to get new flights and make it to Trinidad a couple of days later.
I love working with guppies, because they allow us to answer some very interesting questions about social living. Guppies live in rainforest streams and in the dry season they often end up in separate pools. These little fish thus naturally experience a variety of physical environments (pools) and social environments (the other fish in the pool). We take advantage of this natural system by trans-locating individual fish to different pools with different social compositions. Most animals would try to go back to their original environment, but for guppies experiencing new physical and social surroundings is just part of their ecology. That we can experimentally control their (social) environment is important, because it allows us to go beyond correlation and ask questions about causality, e.g. how does social composition influence individual foraging success?
To answer this question, we introduced individually marked wild guppies in single sex (male or female) or 50:50 sex compositions, to different pools and studied individuals’ social behavior and their ability to locate novel (experimentally introduced) food patches.
Male guppies found fewer novel food patches in the absence of female guppies, while female patch discovery did not differ between single-sex or mixed compositions. We argue that these results were driven by sex-dependent mechanisms of social association: males reduced sociality when females were absent, while less social individuals found fewer patches. Females were, however, similarly social with or without males. Finally, males, but not females, preferred to join females over males at food patches.
Our study’s take-home message: for a more thorough understanding of social evolution, it is important to consider how individual (e.g. sex) and (sub)population-level traits (e.g. sex composition) interact in shaping the adaptive value of social living in the wild.
Maybe also: don’t fly with Insel Air.
Reference Snijders L, Kurvers R.H.J.M, Krause S., Tump A.N., Ramnarine I.W., Krause J. (2018) Females facilitate male patch discovery in a wild fish population. BioRxiv.
Yeah! Our recent open access paper on systematic maps and reviews in behavioural ecology is now available in, how appropriate, Behavioral Ecology. It is the first concrete output of a group of behavioral ecologists, passionate to effectively contribute to wildlife conservation. This is just the beginning! Many thanks to Oded Berger-Tal, Alison Greggor and Dan Blumstein for bringing us all together.
Summary of the paper:
Although examples of successful applications of behavioral ecology research to policy and management exist, knowledge generated from such research is in many cases under-utilized by managers and policy makers. On their own, empirical studies and traditional reviews do not offer the robust syntheses that managers and policy makers require to make evidence-based decisions and evidence-informed policy.
Similar to the evidence-based revolution in medicine, the application of formal systematic review processes has the potential to invigorate the field of behavioral ecology and accelerate the uptake of behavioral evidence in policy and management. Systematic reviews differ from traditional reviews and meta-analyses in that their methods are peer reviewed and prepublished for maximum transparency, the evidence base is widened to cover work published outside of academic journals, and review findings are formally communicated with stakeholders. This approach can be valuable even when the systematic literature search fails to yield sufficient evidence for a full review or meta-analysis; preparing systematic maps of the existing evidence can highlight deficiencies in the evidence base, thereby directing future research efforts.
To standardize the use of systematic evidence syntheses in the field of environmental science, the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE) created a workflow process to certify the comprehensiveness and repeatability of systematic reviews and maps, and to maximize their objectivity. We argue that the application of CEE guidelines to reviews of applied behavioral interventions will make robust behavioral evidence easily accessible to managers and policy makers to support their decision-making, as well as improve the quality of basic research in behavioral ecology.
Reference O Berger-Tal, AL Greggor, B Macura, CA Adams, A Blumenthal, A Bouskila, U Candolin, C Doran, E Fernandez-Juricic, KM Gotanda, C Price, B Putman, M Segoli, L Snijders, BBM Wong, DT Blumstein. (2018) Systematic reviews and maps as tools for applying behavioral ecology to management and policy.” Behavioral Ecology.
I am very proud to share my latest publication in Nature Ecology Evolution (NEE). It is the first paper from my ‘guppy’ postdoc at the Leibniz-IGB. It is also the first time (I think) that a manuscript of mine got accepted by the first journal I sent it to, which is also nice for a change :-). Guppies were also the topic of my final year’s highschool science project o, which makes this publication extra special for me. Fish are amazing creatures and I am happy I get to share their stories.
Next to our scientific article, I wrote two background stories:
Social individuals find more food – IGB-website How do you find food when the food is never exactly present at the same place or time? Wild guppies living in the rainforest of Trinidad are faced with this vital question every day. Looking at guppies, it turns out that there are a few keys to finding unpredictable food: being social and surrounding yourself with females. Read more.
Being consistent in a dynamic environment: a guppy story – NEE-website Sometimes things happen that can give you a whole new appreciation of the study system you are working with. For me this thing happened this year. Read more.
If you are more of a visual person, I also made a little Youtube video.
The research article can be viewed for free, but please contact me, for example via ResearchGate, if you would like to have the PDF.
Reference Snijders L, Kurvers RHJM, Krause S, Ramnarine IW, Krause J (2018). Individual- and population-level drivers of consistent foraging success across environments. Nature Ecology and Evolution.
This week I submitted a manuscript to a preprint server for the first time. This is a bit scary because a preprint is not peer-reviewed and so is missing a ‘security check’, something that always makes me feel a bit more at ease when communicating my results [but see: http://thebrainissocool.com/2017/12/19/peer-review-is-not-all-that-is-cracked-up-to-be/%5D. However, I think preprint servers are a great idea, because you don’t have to wait for months before you can finally share your results and show people what you are working on. More importantly, preprint servers provide a way, for those interested, to read your findings without having to pass a pay-wall. A version of your study will thus always stay open-access. So, I put my fears (somewhat) aside and decided to submit my recent manuscript to BioRxiv, before submitting it to a scientific journal.
In the manuscript, we describe a field experiment with wild guppies in Trinidad by which we studied foraging success in the wild. We tested if foraging success in the wild differs consistently between individuals and if these differences can be explained by individual traits such as sex and social type, but also by population traits such as sex-ratio. I think the results are very exciting and also somewhat unexpected. If you would like to find out more, then please read the preprint on BioRxiv.