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1.  Social foragers adopt a riskier foraging mode in the centre of their groups 
Biology Letters  2013;9(6):20130528.
Foraging in groups provides many benefits that are not necessarily experienced the same way by all individuals. I explore the possibility that foraging mode, the way individuals exploit resources, varies as a function of spatial position in the group, reflecting commonly occurring spatial differences in predation risk. I show that semipalmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla), a social foraging avian species, tended to adopt a riskier foraging mode in the central, more protected areas of their groups. Central birds effectively used the more peripheral group members as sentinels, allowing them to exploit a wider range of resources within the same group at the same time. This finding provides a novel benefit of living in groups, which may have a broad relevance given that social foraging species often exploit a large array of resources.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2013.0528
PMCID: PMC3871343  PMID: 24108674
antipredator vigilance; semipalmated sandpipers; social foraging; spatial position
2.  Long-distance migrating species of birds travel in larger groups 
Biology Letters  2011;7(5):692-694.
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.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2011.0243
PMCID: PMC3169065  PMID: 21525051
birds; flight formation; group size; migration; navigation accuracy
3.  Relaxed predation risk reduces but does not eliminate sociality in birds 
Biology Letters  2010;6(4):472-474.
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.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.1063
PMCID: PMC2936213  PMID: 20106860
birds; group size; predation risk; relaxed selection; sociality
4.  Group-foraging is not associated with longevity in North American birds 
Biology Letters  2009;6(1):42-44.
Group-foraging is common in many animal taxa and is thought to offer protection against predators and greater foraging efficiency. Such benefits may have driven evolutionary transitions from solitary to group-foraging. Greater protection against predators and greater access to resources should reduce extrinsic sources of mortality and thus select for higher longevity according to life-history theory. I assessed the association between group-foraging and longevity in a sample of 421 North American birds. Taking into account known correlates of longevity, such as age at first reproduction and body mass, foraging group size was not correlated with maximum longevity, with and without phylogenetic correction. However, longevity increased with body mass in non-passerine birds. The results suggest that the hypothesized changes in predation risk with group size may not correlate with mortality rate in foraging birds.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.0691
PMCID: PMC2817272  PMID: 19776065
body mass; group size; foraging; independent contrasts; maximum longevity; passerine versus non-passerine bird
5.  Sleeping gulls monitor the vigilance behaviour of their neighbours 
Biology Letters  2008;5(1):9-11.
Individuals in groups are often thought to scan their surroundings for threats independently of one another. Models, however, suggest that foragers should monitor the vigilance level of their neighbours to prevent cheating, and to gather information about incipient predation risk. Evidence for monitoring of vigilance is scant. Here, I examined changes in vigilance levels in sleeping gulls (Larus sp.) surrounded by neighbours in various states of alertness. Controlling for group size and neighbour density, gulls interrupted sleep more often to scan their surroundings, and were therefore more vigilant, when their neighbours were alert rather than sleeping or preening. The results provide evidence for copying of vigilance within groups of birds, suggesting a complex flow of information about predation risk in groups.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2008.0490
PMCID: PMC2657747  PMID: 18940772
anti-predator vigilance; group size; gulls; Larus sp.; sleep; visual monitoring

Results 1-5 (5)