Science

New preprint: Don’t forget about your friends

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.

Reference
RHJM Kurvers, L Prox, DR Farine, C Jongeling, L Snijders (2019)

 

Communication, Science

A Plenary Experience

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 :-).

Science

New preprint: More guppies on the preprint server

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.

BioRxiv

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.

Lysanne_field
Me, being fascinated by guppies

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.

 

Science

New publication: the guppy background stories

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
Guppy_colour_SnijdersHow 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.

 

Science

A new project! Personality and migration strategies in bats

This month, I officially started with my two-year postdoc fellowship at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), granted by the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. As of now, I am part of the Evolutionary Ecology Department, or more specifically: the Batlab, and I will study the role of personality and social associations in the movement behaviour of partially migratory noctule bats, Nyctalus noctula. In Germany they are called Abendsegler, meaning something like ‘Evening sailor’. Beautiful isn’t it? I am very much looking forward to my work at IZW and I hope to learn many new things, meet many passionate wildlife researchers and contribute some fascinating new insights into noctule bat behaviour.

IZW

Abstract of my awesome bat project:

Migratory animals vitally connect distant ecosystems worldwide, impacting key ecological processes by transporting nutrients, seeds, parasites and pathogens. As the only flying mammals, bats represent a unique and widespread group of migratory animals, serving important ecosystem functions as pollinators and pest controllers. Bats comprise one fifth of all mammal species, but little is known about their migration strategies. Yet understanding animal migration strategies provides important insights into ecosystem connectivity. Therefore, I aim to gain a better understanding of the key mechanisms that drive variation in bat migration strategies.

A single bat population can contain resident as well as migrating individuals. Such populations offer an excellent opportunity to study individual differences in migration strategies within populations. Hitherto, research on migration has mostly focused on birds, yet novel tools have recently become available to study partial migration in bats. Migration poses a trade-off: migration can lead individuals to more favourable habitats, but is also risky and energetically costly. Individuals have to balance these costs and benefits of migration and are likely to differ in how they do so. Bats fundamentally differ from many migrating bird species in key life-history traits that profoundly impact migration decisions. Knowledge about bat migration strategies, may thus lead to crucial insights into the maintenance of animal migration over evolutionary timescales.

New and improved techniques, such as non-invasive isotopic geolocation, allow for novel insights into the migration strategies of this poorly understood migratory taxon. Using this novel technique in combination with bat personality assays, social network analyses and bat banding, I will test whether individual bats consistently or plastically differ in their migration strategies and investigate the key social, physiological and behavioural factors underlying these differences.

 

Science

New preprint: Guppies on a preprint server

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.

Guppies_BW_Snijders

 

 

 

 

Conservation, Science

New publication: Linking animal social network theory to conservation

Available for free until September 7, 2017Click this link

Last week, June 22, a for me very important paper was published online in the scientific journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. With this Opinion paper, me and my co-authors hope to stimulate a closer collaboration between animal social network scientists and conservation practitioners. You can read more about it in our press release below. If you are interested in reading the complete scientific article, but do not have access, please send me a message/email. 

As with humans, most animals prefer to associate with some individuals and not with others. The social structure can influence how a population responds to changes in its environment. Examining social networks is a promising technique for understanding, predicting and – if for the better – manipulating this structure. However, whereas the contribution of behavioural biology to conservation is already well recognized, the usefulness of animal social network analysis as a conservation tool has not yet been addressed. A group of behavioural ecologists led by Lysanne Snijders from the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) outlines how the understanding of relationships between animals could be applied by wildlife managers and conservationists to support their work in disease management, breeding programs, reintroductions or relocations, or for controlling problem behaviours – to name just a few.

Animal social network studies examine how the individuals of a population are socially connected, how they interact and associate. Knowledge of the social structure can help to identify the flow of information or the spread of disease, and has potential to be used as an indicator of upcoming population changes. Information of that kind would be less – or not at all – noticeable using methods purely based on population size or the observation of single individuals.

Dr Lysanne Snijders, Post Doctoral Researcher at the Department of Biology and Ecology of Fishes at IGB, describes this approach with the help of Aristotle: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Combined effects of social interactions in wildlife populations do not only have important theoretical but also practical implications. Linking animal social network theory to practice can therefore stimulate the design of new practical conservation tools and generate novel insights into how animal social networks change over time.”

sea-lion-2031836_1920

An example from real wildlife

For many species, it is not just diseases that can spread rapidly. Social information can also be transmitted via various routes within a group, for instance, innovative ways to search for food. In the case of the California sea lion, novel foraging strategies have led to conflict with a fishery conservation scheme. The sea lions had discovered that salmonids migrating upriver became more concentrated at a dam, making them easy prey. Unfortunately, those salmonids were endangered species. A recent study [1] showed that knowledge of the network structure could have helped wildlife managers to detect that at first it was only a few successful individuals who “recruited” the others, and that the selective removal of these information spreaders could have contained the problem. In this case social network analysis could therefore have assisted in protecting the endangered salmonids while culling fewer sea lions.

Snijders also suggests a possible example for how animal social network analysis could be used in conservation work in Europe: “In cases of recently reintroduced group living animals, such as the European bison, social network analyses could give insights into how a population’s long-term persistence might vary with particular behavioural processes within the group. But also into how group and individual movements might be effectively manipulated to avoid human-wildlife conflicts such as entering restricted areas like farm land.”

19238255_1909382209278158_2523175990965175768_o

Perspectives for implementation

In a field in which funds and time are limited, any newly suggested approach should have a distinct added value. Not every conservation challenge that is linked to a species’ social behaviour will require a social network approach to address it. The scientists also acknowledge that their proposal has to overcome another important hurdle first: before applying the knowledge of social relationships to management practices, it should become feasible and cost-effective to collect the required data in the first place. But with technological options becoming more common and affordable, an animal social network analysis approach could increasingly become an option.

There are several methods out there that have been successfully applied to map wildlife social networks, ranging from sampling individuals at fixed locations, to walking transects, to automatically spatially tracking the animals. Rapid advancements in technology, like proximity loggers and GPS tags, allow for ever smaller animal species to be tracked, while at the same time becoming more affordable. In addition, collaborations between research institutes and conservationists might provide opportunities for sharing the costs or the technology.

A video introduction to animal social networks by Lysanne Snijders >

Article:

Snijders, L., Blumstein, D. T., Stanley C. R., Franks, D. W. (2017): Animal Social Network Theory Can Help Wildlife Conservation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Read this article >

References:

[1] Zachary A. Schakner, Michael G. Buhnerkempe, Mathew J. Tennis, Robert J. Stansell, Bjorn K. van der Leeuw, James O. Lloyd-Smith, Daniel T. Blumstein (2016): Epidemiological models to control the spread of information in marine mammals. Published 14 December 2016. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2037

 

See original press release here.