A new start in a place that is very familiar to me, the Behavioural Ecology Group of Wageningen University, the university where I defended my PhD in April 2016. Now I am very excited to be back as an Assistant Professor.
My PhD project focused on the role of personality in the social networks of territorial songbirds. In my years away, I have expanded on these topics and added some additional interests and fascinating study models to it. I investigate(d) the role of social behavior and the social environment in the foraging performance of wild guppies. I designed an in situ personality test for wild bats to investigate a potential link with migration behavior and I became part of a wonderful network of behavioral ecologists, passionate to contribute to conservation.
I still can’t quite believe I get to do this work as a profession and I am truly grateful for this incredible opportunity. I will continue with my work on social foraging in guppies, working together with the Leibniz-IGB, and with my systematic map on the effectiveness of animal conditioning in Human-Wildlife Conflicts. I am also very enthusiastic to start and collaborate on new projects involving conservation behavior, social behavior and animal personality. And, of course, to supervise students who are motivated and curious to explore these topics with me!
Remember those friends you never see anymore after they got hitched? Not in geese!
In our recently published paper, 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 preferences 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)
Recently, I received the honourable request to comment on an article about the rewilding of captive Asian elephants. It’s not a topic I am very familiar with, so writing this commentary actually became a wonderful learning experience for me.
Several strong commentaries from cultural, ethical and psychological perspectives were already written. Here I tried to also add a relevant ecological & evolutionary perspective, focussing on the behavioural ecology of Asian elephants and their functional role in the ecosystem.
Abstract:Baker & Winkler make a thought-provoking contribution to the discussion of what role captive animals could play in nature conservation and how we could get there through rewilding. There certainly is potential for captive Asian elephants, Elephas maximus, to become targets of conservation efforts, but there are also many questions: (1) How much do (behavioural) traits of captive-origin animals differ from their free conspecifics? (2) What predicts the likelihood and strength of social reintegration of captive animals into free populations? (3) How much of an Asian elephant’s functional role in the environment can captive animals still fulfil and how may this influence the evolutionary dynamics of Asian elephant populations? These questions are challenging, but also an opportunity to gain crucial knowledge and insight into the elephant’s ecological role, as well as our own.
If you are interested in reading the complete commentary (approx. 1000 words) see here.
Just how much of a sensitive topic this particular case study is, we noticed by how difficult it was for us to find contributors. Luckily we found two experts from Moral Philosophy that shared their insight with us:
Carlos Gray Santana is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy at the University of Utah. Dr Santana’s uses ethics to shed light on complicated issues such as the environment and human cognition. William S. Lynn is a Research Scientist in the George Perkins Marsh Institute at Clark University. The focus of Bill’s work is the ethics and politics of animal protection and sustainability.
For optional guidance, we asked the experts the following questions:
Why is the matter of cats and wildlife so controversial?
Why do you think politicians focus on culling cats rather than on habitat loss (as suggested in Doherty et al. 2019) and could open discussions be fostered to move beyond culling?
How do you think the public would respond when culling of cats turns out not to be effective in halting endemic species decline?
Curious about what they had to say? Read our blog post here.
And you can also follow us on Twitter!
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.