Life-history theory predicts that reduced extrinsic risk of mortality should increase species longevity over evolutionary time. Increasing group size should reduce an individual's risk of predation, and consequently reduce its extrinsic risk of mortality. Therefore, we should expect a relationship between group size and maximum longevity across species, while controlling for well-known correlates of longevity. We tested this hypothesis using a dataset of 253 mammal species and phylogenetic comparative methods. We found that group size was a poor predictor of maximum longevity across all mammals, as well as within primates and rodents. We found a weak but significant group-size effect on artiodactyl longevity, but in a negative direction. Body mass was consistently the best predictor of maximum longevity, which may be owing to lower predation risk and/or lower basal metabolic rates for large species. Artiodactyls living in large groups may exhibit higher rates of extrinsic mortality because of being more conspicuous to predators in open habitats, resulting in shorter lifespans.
lifespan; senescence; life history; predation; sociality
Sociality, as a life-history trait, should be associated with high longevity because complex sociality is characterized by reproductive suppression, delayed breeding, increased care and survival, and some of these traits select for high longevity. We studied the relationship between cooperative parental care (a proxy of complex sociality) and relative maximum lifespan in 257 North American bird species. After controlling for variation in maximum lifespan explained by body mass, sampling effort, latitude, mortality rate, migration distance and age at first reproduction, we found no significant effect of cooperative care on longevity in analyses of species-specific data or phylogenetically independent standardized linear contrasts. Thus, sociality itself is not associated with high longevity. Rather, longevity is correlated with increased body size, survival rate and age of first reproduction.
cooperative breeding; life-history theory of senescence; longevity; maximum lifespan
Mixed-species foraging associations may form to enhance feeding success or to avoid predators. We report the costs and consequences of an unusual foraging association between an endemic foliage gleaning tupaid (Nicobar treeshrew Tupaia nicobarica) and two species of birds; one an insectivorous commensal (greater racket-tailed drongo Dicrurus paradiseus) and the other a diurnal raptor and potential predator (Accipiter sp.). In an alliance driven, and perhaps engineered, by drongos, these species formed cohesive groups with predictable relationships. Treeshrew breeding pairs were found more frequently than solitary individuals with sparrowhawks and were more likely to tolerate sparrowhawks in the presence of drongos. Treeshrews maintained greater distances from sparrowhawks than drongos, and permitted the raptors to come closer when drongos were present. Treeshrew foraging rates declined in the presence of drongos; however, the latter may provide them predator avoidance benefits. The choice of the raptor to join the association is intriguing; particular environmental resource states may drive the evolution of such behavioural strategies. Although foraging benefits seem to be the primary driver of this association, predator avoidance also influences interactions, suggesting that strategies driving the formation of flocks may be complex and context dependent with varying benefits for different actors.
mixed foraging associations; predator avoidance; context dependence; treeshrews; drongos; sparrowhawks
Disentangling the relative contribution of predation avoidance and increased foraging efficiency in the evolution of sociality in animals has proven difficult given that the two types of benefits often operate concurrently. I identified different types of refuges from predation in birds related to morphological and ecological traits, providing an opportunity to examine concomitant changes in sociality over evolutionary times. Results of a matched-species comparative analysis indicated a reduction in the size of foraging or non-foraging groups but not complete disappearance under negligible predation risk. The results suggest that while predation avoidance is an important component in the evolution of sociality in birds, it is most probably not acting alone but rather in conjunction with other benefits such as increased foraging efficiency.
birds; group size; predation risk; relaxed selection; sociality
From zebra to starlings, herring and even tadpoles, many creatures move in an organized group. The emergent behaviour arises from simple underlying movement rules, but the evolutionary pressure which favours these rules has not been conclusively identified. Various explanations exist for the advantage to the individual of group formation: reduction of predation risk; increased foraging efficiency or reproductive success. Here, we adopt an individual-based model for group formation and subject it to simulated predation and foraging; the haploid individuals evolve via a genetic algorithm based on their relative success under such pressure. Our work suggests that flock or herd formation is likely to be driven by predator avoidance. Individual fitness in the model is strongly dependent on the presence of other phenotypes, such that two distinct types of evolved group can be produced by the same predation or foraging conditions, each stable against individual mutation. We draw analogies with multiple Nash equilibria theory of iterated games to explain and categorize these behaviours. Our model is sufficient to capture the complex behaviour of dynamic collective groups, yet is flexible enough to manifest evolutionary behaviour.
flocking; evolution; genetic algorithm; predation; foraging; Nash equilibrium
How individuals migrate over long distances is an enduring mystery of animal migration. Strong selection pressure for travelling in groups has been suggested in long-distance migrating species. Travelling in groups can reduce the energetic demands of long migration, increase navigational accuracy and favour group foraging at migratory halts. Nevertheless, this hypothesis has received scant attention. I examined evolutionary transitions in migration distance in all North American breeding species of birds. I documented 72 evolutionary shifts in migration distance in the pool of 409 species. In contrasting clades, long-distance migration, as opposed to short-distance migration, was associated with a larger travelling group size. No other transitions occurred alongside in other traits such as group size in the non-breeding season or body mass. The results suggest that larger group sizes have been beneficial in the evolution of long-distance migration in a large clade of birds.
birds; flight formation; group size; migration; navigation accuracy
We briefly review the literature on social learning in birds, concluding that strong evidence exists mainly for predator recognition, song, mate choice and foraging. The mechanism of local enhancement may be more important than imitation for birds learning to forage, but the former mechanism may be sufficient for faithful transmission depending on the ecological circumstances. To date, most insights have been gained from birds in captivity. We present a study of social learning of foraging in two passerine birds in the wild, where we cross-fostered eggs between nests of blue tits, Cyanistes caeruleus and great tits, Parus major. Early learning causes a shift in the foraging sites used by the tits in the direction of the foster species. The shift in foraging niches was consistent across seasons, as showed by an analysis of prey items, and the effect lasted for life. The fact that young birds learn from their foster parents, and use this experience later when subsequently feeding their own offspring, suggests that foraging behaviour can be culturally transmitted over generations in the wild. It may therefore have both ecological and evolutionary consequences, some of which are discussed.
cultural transmission; ecological niche; foraging conservatism; habitat preferences; speciation
Populations of many shorebird species appear to be declining in North America, and food resources at stopover habitats may limit migratory bird populations. We investigated body condition of, and foraging habitat and diet selection by 4 species of shorebirds in the central Illinois River valley during fall migrations 2007 and 2008 (Killdeer [Charadrius vociferus], Least Sandpiper [Calidris minutilla], Pectoral Sandpiper [Calidris melanotos], and Lesser Yellowlegs [Tringa flavipes]). All species except Killdeer were in good to excellent condition, based on size-corrected body mass and fat scores. Shorebird diets were dominated by invertebrate taxa from Orders Diptera and Coleoptera. Additionally, Isopoda, Hemiptera, Hirudinea, Nematoda, and Cyprinodontiformes contribution to diets varied by shorebird species and year. We evaluated diet and foraging habitat selection by comparing aggregate percent dry mass of food items in shorebird diets and core samples from foraging substrates. Invertebrate abundances at shorebird collection sites and random sites were generally similar, indicating that birds did not select foraging patches within wetlands based on invertebrate abundance. Conversely, we found considerable evidence for selection of some diet items within particular foraging sites, and consistent avoidance of Oligochaeta. We suspect the diet selectivity we observed was a function of overall invertebrate biomass (51.2±4.4 [SE] kg/ha; dry mass) at our study sites, which was greater than estimates reported in most other food selection studies. Diet selectivity in shorebirds may follow tenants of optimal foraging theory; that is, at low food abundances shorebirds forage opportunistically, with the likelihood of selectivity increasing as food availability increases. Nonetheless, relationships between the abundance, availability, and consumption of Oligochaetes for and by waterbirds should be the focus of future research, because estimates of foraging carrying capacity would need to be revised downward if Oligochaetes are truly avoided or unavailable for consumption.
Data show that when small birds are exposed to a model of a predator, their body mass may either increase or decrease. Although attempts have been made to explain the data using previous models, these models are based on a constant level of predation and hence are not appropriate for making predictions about the response of a bird to the sight of a predator. We have developed a novel model that includes encounters between a bird and potential predators. We show that, depending on the biology of the predator, optimal body mass may either increase or decrease. The model also makes predictions about the foraging behaviour of the bird after it has seen a predator.
energy reserves; starvation; predation; foraging; minimising mortality
In winter, foraging activity is intended to optimize food search while minimizing both thermoregulation costs and predation risk. Here we quantify the relative importance of thermoregulation and predation in foraging patch selection of woodland birds wintering in a Mediterranean montane forest. Specifically, we account for thermoregulation benefits related to temperature, and predation risk associated with both illumination of the feeding patch and distance to the nearest refuge provided by vegetation. We measured the amount of time that 38 marked individual birds belonging to five small passerine species spent foraging at artificial feeders. Feeders were located in forest patches that vary in distance to protective cover and exposure to sun radiation; temperature and illumination were registered locally by data loggers. Our results support the influence of both thermoregulation benefits and predation costs on feeding patch choice. The influence of distance to refuge (negative relationship) was nearly three times higher than that of temperature (positive relationship) in determining total foraging time spent at a patch. Light intensity had a negligible and no significant effect. This pattern was generalizable among species and individuals within species, and highlights the preponderance of latent predation risk over thermoregulation benefits on foraging decisions of birds wintering in temperate Mediterranean forests.
Predators that have learned to associate warning coloration with toxicity often continue to include aposematic prey in their diet in order to gain the nutrients and energy that they contain. As body size is widely reported to correlate with energetic content, we predicted that prey size would affect predators' decisions to eat aposematic prey. We used a well-established system of wild-caught European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, foraging on mealworms, Tenebrio molitor, to test how the size of undefended (water-injected) and defended (quinine-injected) prey, on different coloured backgrounds, affected birds’ decisions to eat defended prey. We found that birds ate fewer defended prey, and less quinine, when undefended prey were large compared with when they were small, but that the size of the defended prey had no effect on the numbers eaten. Consequently, we found no evidence that the mass of the defended prey or the overall mass of prey ingested affected the amount of toxin that a predator was willing to ingest, and instead the mass of undefended prey eaten was more important. This is a surprising finding, challenging the assumptions of state-dependent models of aposematism and mimicry, and highlighting the need to understand better the mechanisms of predator decision making. In addition, the birds did not learn to discriminate visually between defended and undefended prey based on size, but only on the basis of colour. This suggests that colour signals may be more salient to predators than size differences, allowing Batesian mimics to benefit from aposematic models even when they differ in size.
•The size of toxic prey did not affect the amount of toxin ingested by birds.•Total prey mass eaten did not affect the amount of toxin ingested by birds.•The amount of toxin ingested by birds depended on the mass of nontoxic prey.•Colour signals may be more salient to predators than size differences.•Findings have implications for the selection pressures acting on aposematic prey.
aposematism; educated predator; energy; European starling; foraging; mimicry; prey size; Sturnus vulgaris; toxic prey
Comparative studies of aging are often difficult to interpret because of the different factors that tend to correlate with longevity. We used the AnAge database to study these factors, particularly metabolism and developmental schedules, previously associated with longevity in vertebrate species. Our results show that, after correcting for body mass and phylogeny, basal metabolic rate does not correlate with longevity in eutherians or birds, although it negatively correlates with marsupial longevity and time to maturity. We confirm the idea that age at maturity is typically proportional to adult life span, and show that mammals that live longer for their body size, such as bats and primates, also tend to have a longer developmental time for their body size. Lastly, postnatal growth rates were negatively correlated with adult life span in mammals but not in birds. Our work provides a detailed view of factors related to species longevity with implications for how comparative studies of aging are interpreted.
When isolated from predators, costly and no longer functional anti-predator behaviour should be selected against. Predator naiveté is often pronounced on islands, where species are found with few or no predators. However, isolation on islands involves other processes, such as founder effects, that might be responsible for naiveté or reduced anti-predator behaviour. We report the first comparative evidence that, in macropodid marsupials, isolation on islands may lead to a systematic loss of ‘group size effects’—a behaviour whereby individuals reduce anti-predator vigilance and allocate more time to foraging as group size increases. Moreover, insular animals forage more, and are less vigilant, than mainland ones. However, we found no evidence that animals on the mainland are ‘flightier’ than those on islands. Remarkably, we also found no evidence that isolation from all predators per se is responsible for these effects. Together, these results demonstrate that anti-predator behaviour may indeed be lost or modified when animals are isolated on islands, but it is premature to assume that all such behaviour is affected.
isolation on islands; persistence of anti-predator behaviour; relaxed selection
Colonial breeding in birds is widely considered to benefit individuals through enhanced protection against predators or transfer of information about foraging sites. This view, however, is largely based on studies of seabirds carried out under favourable conditions. Recent breeding failures at many seabird colonies in the UK provide an opportunity to re-examine costs and benefits of coloniality under adverse conditions. Common guillemots Uria aalge are highly colonial cliff-nesting seabirds with very flexible parental care. Although the single chick is normally never left alone, more than 50 per cent of offspring were left unattended at a North Sea colony in 2007, apparently because poor conditions forced both parents to forage simultaneously. Contrary to expectation, unattended chicks were not killed by avian predators. Rather, although non-breeders and failed breeders sometimes provided alloparental care, unattended chicks were frequently attacked by breeding guillemots at neighbouring sites, often with fatal consequences. These results highlight a previously unsuspected trade-off between provisioning chicks and avoiding conspecific attacks, and indicate that understanding how environmental conditions affect social dynamics is crucial to interpreting costs and benefits of colonial breeding.
density dependence; social dynamics; chick neglect; infanticide; environmental change
Understanding the mechanisms that drive prey selection is a major challenge in foraging ecology. Most studies of foraging strategies have focused on behavioural costs, and have generally failed to recognize that differences in the quality of prey may be as important to predators as the costs of acquisition. Here, we tested whether there is a relationship between the quality of diets (kJ·g−1) consumed by cetaceans in the North Atlantic and their metabolic costs of living as estimated by indicators of muscle performance (mitochondrial density, n = 60, and lipid content, n = 37). We found that the cost of living of 11 cetacean species is tightly coupled with the quality of prey they consume. This relationship between diet quality and cost of living appears to be independent of phylogeny and body size, and runs counter to predictions that stem from the well-known scaling relationships between mass and metabolic rates. Our finding suggests that the quality of prey rather than the sheer quantity of food is a major determinant of foraging strategies employed by predators to meet their specific energy requirements. This predator-specific dependence on food quality appears to reflect the evolution of ecological strategies at a species level, and has implications for risk assessment associated with the consequences of changing the quality and quantities of prey available to top predators in marine ecosystems.
For species with positive density dependence, costs and benefits of increasing density may depend on environmental conditions, but this has seldom been tested. By examining a colonial seabird (common guillemot) over a period of unprecedented poor food availability, we test two contrasting hypotheses suggesting that birds breeding at high density have: (i) greater leeway to increase foraging effort owing to more effective defence of unattended chicks against predators; and (ii) less leeway, owing to more attacks on unattended chicks by neighbouring adults. Supporting hypothesis 1, birds at high density increased provisioning rates and hence survival of chicks by foraging simultaneously with their partners, whereas at low density, unattended chicks were liable to be killed by predatory gulls and, unexpectedly, razorbills. Simultaneously, supporting hypothesis 2, heightened aggression towards unattended chicks at high density frequently resulted in infanticide, undermining benefits from collective defence against predators. Consequently, over 25 years, the magnitude of positive density dependence was independent of mean breeding success. These data indicate previously unsuspected trade-offs between costs and benefits of increasing density under changing environments. Previous generalizations about the importance of high density for reproductive success have so far remained robust, but such trade-offs could have unpredictable consequences for future population dynamics.
chick neglect; colonial breeding; environmental change; Uria aalge; interference competition; social dynamics
Ecological constraints related to foraging are expected to affect the evolution of morphological traits relevant to food capture, manipulation and transport. Females of central-place foraging Hymenoptera vary in their food load manipulation ability. Bees and social wasps modulate the amount of food taken per foraging trip (in terms of e.g. number of pollen grains or parts of prey), while solitary wasps carry exclusively entire prey items. We hypothesized that the foraging constraints acting on females of the latter species, imposed by the upper limit to the load size they are able to transport in flight, should promote the evolution of a greater load-lifting capacity and manoeuvrability, specifically in terms of greater flight muscle to body mass ratio and lower wing loading.
Our comparative study of 28 species confirms that, accounting for shared ancestry, female flight muscle ratio was significantly higher and wing loading lower in species taking entire prey compared to those that are able to modulate load size. Body mass had no effect on flight muscle ratio, though it strongly and negatively co-varied with wing loading. Across species, flight muscle ratio and wing loading were negatively correlated, suggesting coevolution of these traits.
Natural selection has led to the coevolution of resource load manipulation ability and morphological traits affecting flying ability with additional loads in females of central-place foraging Hymenoptera. Release from load-carrying constraints related to foraging, which took place with the evolution of food load manipulation ability, has selected against the maintenance of a powerful flight apparatus. This could be the case since investment in flight muscles may have to be traded against other life-history traits, such as reproductive investment.
Bees; Flight Muscle Ratio; Foraging; Wasps; Wing Loading
The behavioral strategies developed by predators to capture and kill their prey are fascinating, notably for predators that forage for prey at, or beyond, the boundaries of their ecosystem. We report here the occurrence of a beaching behavior used by an alien and large-bodied freshwater predatory fish (Silurus glanis) to capture birds on land (i.e. pigeons, Columbia livia). Among a total of 45 beaching behaviors observed and filmed, 28% were successful in bird capture. Stable isotope analyses (δ13C and δ15N) of predators and their putative prey revealed a highly variable dietary contribution of land birds among individuals. Since this extreme behavior has not been reported in the native range of the species, our results suggest that some individuals in introduced predator populations may adapt their behavior to forage on novel prey in new environments, leading to behavioral and trophic specialization to actively cross the water-land interface.
Quantifying the nutritional quality of forage fish is integral for understanding upper trophic levels as forage fish are the dominant prey for top predator fish, marine mammals, and sea birds. Many existing reports documenting body composition of forage species are not comparable due to confounding effects. This study systematically assessed the variability in proximate composition and energy content of 16 forage species in southeastern Alaska (57.2626 N/133.7394 W) between 2001 and 2004. Variation in energy and lipid contents was related to habitat, epipelagic planktivores varying most, mesopelagics intermediate, and demersal species relatively invariable. Season was the greatest source of variation as a result of short growing seasons at high latitude and energy allocation strategies for reproduction and growth. Among species that varied seasonally, energy and lipid increased over summer and declined during winter. Annual differences in body composition occurred during periods of peak energy content. Sampling recommendations and guidance for bioenergetics models are provided.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00227-010-1569-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Despite important recent progress in our understanding of brain evolution, controversy remains regarding the evolutionary forces that have driven its enormous diversification in size. Here, we report that in passerine birds, migratory species tend to have brains that are substantially smaller (relative to body size) than those of resident species, confirming and generalizing previous studies. Phylogenetic reconstructions based on Bayesian Markov chain methods suggest an evolutionary scenario in which some large brained tropical passerines that invaded more seasonal regions evolved migratory behavior and migration itself selected for smaller brain size. Selection for smaller brains in migratory birds may arise from the energetic and developmental costs associated with a highly mobile life cycle, a possibility that is supported by a path analysis. Nevertheless, an important fraction (over 68%) of the correlation between brain mass and migratory distance comes from a direct effect of migration on brain size, perhaps reflecting costs associated with cognitive functions that have become less necessary in migratory species. Overall, our results highlight the importance of retrospective analyses in identifying selective pressures that have shaped brain evolution, and indicate that when it comes to the brain, larger is not always better.
Individual variation in stable behavioral traits may explain variation in ecologically-relevant behaviors such as foraging, dispersal, anti-predator behavior, and dominance. We investigated behavioral variation in mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli), a North American parid that lives in dominance-structured winter flocks, using two common measures of behavioral profile: exploration of a novel room and novel object exploration. We related those behavioral traits to dominance status in male chickadees following brief, pair-wise encounters. Low-exploring birds (birds that visited less than four locations in the novel room) were significantly more likely to become dominant in brief, pairwise encounters with high-exploring birds (i.e., birds that visited all perching locations within a novel room). On the other hand, there was no relationship between novel object exploration and dominance. Interestingly, novel room exploration was also not correlated with novel object exploration. These results suggest that behavioral profile may predict the social status of group-living individuals. Moreover, our results contradict the idea that novel object exploration and novel room exploration are always interchangeable measures of individuals' sensitivity to environmental novelty.
Behavioral profile; Exploration; Mountain Chickadee; Pocile gambeli; Personality; Social dominance; Temperament
Death feigning is fairly common in a number of taxa, but the adaptive significance of this behaviour is still unclear and has seldom been tested. To date, all proposed hypotheses have assumed that prey manage to escape predation by sending a death-mimicking signal, although death-feigning postures are markedly different from those of dead animals. Moreover, the efficacy of this technique may largely depend on the foraging mode of the predator; death feigning seldom works with sit-and-wait predators that make the decision to attack and consume prey within a very brief time. We examined whether death feigning in the pygmy grasshopper Criotettix japonicus Haan was an inducible defence behaviour against the frog Rana nigromaculata, a sit-and-wait, gape-limited predator. The characteristic posture assumed by the grasshopper during death feigning enlarges its functional body size by stretching each of three body parts (pronotum, hind legs and lateral spines) in three different directions, thereby making it difficult for the predator to swallow the prey. Our result is the first consistent explanation for why death-mimicking animals do not always mimic the posture of dead animals.
death-feigning; adaptive significance; anti-predator response; gape-limited predator
Prey use a wide variety of anti-predator defence strategies, including morphological and chemical defences as well as behavioural traits (risk-modulated habitat use, changes in activity patterns, foraging decisions and group living). The critical test of how effective anti-predator strategies are is to relate them to relative indices of mortality across predators. Here, we compare biases in predator diet composition with prey characteristics and show that chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and felid show the strongest and the most consistent predator bias towards small-brained prey. We propose that large-brained prey are likely to be more effective at evading predators because they can effectively alter their behavioural responses to specific predator encounters. Thus, we provide evidence for the hypothesis that brain size evolution is potentially driven by selection for more sophisticated and behaviourally flexible anti-predator strategies.
prey choice; tropical forests; predation risks; hunting strategies
Ants use a great variety of recruitment methods to forage for food or find new nests, including tandem running, group recruitment and scent trails. It has been known for some time that there is a loose correlation across many taxa between species-specific mature colony size and recruitment method. Very small colonies tend to use solitary foraging; small to medium sized colonies use tandem running or group recruitment whereas larger colonies use pheromone recruitment trails. Until now, explanations for this correlation have focused on the ants' ecology, such as food resource distribution. However, many species have colonies with a single queen and workforces that grow over several orders of magnitude, and little is known about how a colony's organization, including recruitment methods, may change during its growth. After all, recruitment involves interactions between ants, and hence the size of the colony itself may influence which recruitment method is used—even if the ants' behavioural repertoire remains unchanged. Here we show using mathematical models that the observed correlation can also be explained by recognizing that failure rates in recruitment depend differently on colony size in various recruitment strategies. Our models focus on the build up of recruiter numbers inside colonies and are not based on optimality arguments, such as maximizing food yield. We predict that ant colonies of a certain size should use only one recruitment method (and always the same one) rather than a mix of two or more. These results highlight the importance of the organization of recruitment and how it is affected by colony size. Hence these results should also expand our understanding of ant ecology.
We examined temporal polyethism in Pogonomyrmex rugosus, predicting a pattern of decreasing age from foragers to nest maintenance workers to individuals that were recruited to harvest a temporary food source. Nest maintenance workers were younger than foragers, as indicated by their heavier mass and lower mandibular wear. In contrast, recruited foragers were similar in mass to foragers but they displayed higher mandibular wear, suggesting that they were at least as old as foragers. Longevity estimates for marked individuals of these two latter task groups showed mixed results. Higher mandibular wear of recruited foragers suggests that they did not follow the normal sequence for temporal polyethism, but rather that they functioned as seed-millers, which should more quickly abrade their dentition. This would be the first demonstration of specialist milling individuals in a monomorphic seed-harvester ant.
Age polyethism; forager; Pogonomyrmex rugosus; nest maintenance workers; recruited foragers