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Juvenile socio-ecological environment shapes material technology in nest-building birds

Citation

Breen, Alexis et al. (2020), Juvenile socio-ecological environment shapes material technology in nest-building birds, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.cnp5hqc27

Abstract

Variation in animal material technology, such as tool use and nest construction, is thought to be caused, in part, by differences in the early-life socio-ecological environment—that is, who and what is around—but this developmental hypothesis remains unconfirmed. We used a tightly controlled developmental paradigm to determine whether adult and/or raw-material access in early life shape first-time nest construction in captive zebra finches Taeniopygia guttata at sexual maturity. We found that juvenile access to both an unrelated adult and raw material of one color led to a majority preference (75%) by novice builders for this color of material over that for either natal-nest or novel colored material, whereas a lack of juvenile access to both an unrelated adult and raw material led to a four- and nearly three-fold reduction in the speed at which novice builders initiated and completed nest construction, respectively. Contrary to expectation, neither the amount of time juveniles nor their adult group-mate spent handling the raw material appear to drive these early-life effects on zebra finches’ first-time nest construction, suggesting that adult presence might be sufficient to drive the development of animal material technology. Together these data show that the juvenile socio-ecological environment can trigger variation in at least two critical aspects of animal material technology (material preference and construction speed), revealing a potentially powerful developmental window for technological advancement. Thus, to understand selection on animal material technology, the early-life environment must be considered.

Funding

School of Biology

University of St Andrews

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Award: BB/M013944/1