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Collective foraging: Experimentally-increased competition decreases group performance exploiting a permanent resource

Citation

Beltrão, Patrícia; Gomes, Ana Cristina R; Cardoso, Gonçalo C (2022), Collective foraging: Experimentally-increased competition decreases group performance exploiting a permanent resource, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.vq83bk3vq

Abstract

Foraging collectively offers advantages, such as access to social information on food locations, but it may also intensify competition for local resources. Social information may be most advantageous during ecologically challenging conditions, when food sources are scarce or unpredictable, which predicts more collective foraging during such conditions. Alternatively, higher within-group competition when resources are scarce might destabilize social groups and reduce collective foraging.

To evaluate these effects, we experimentally decreased the number and predictability of food sources (feeders with ad libitum seeds) available to wild-caught common waxbills (Estrilda astrild) living in a large open-air mesocosm.

Compared to control periods, in the treatment with few food sources competitive aggressiveness at feeders increased, the social network became more fragmented, with on average weaker associations between individuals, and foraging groups became smaller. Foraging groups also spent less time per visit to the feeding area, individuals spent less time at the feeders per group visit and had to make more visits to the feeding area per day, all of which indicate less efficient exploitation of the food sources. These effects were also observed when the number of feeders changed unpredictably across days.

Even though the collective behaviour of waxbills appeared to exacerbate, rather than mitigate, the ecological challenges of reduced or unpredictable food sources, we suggest that, in nature, this increased aggressiveness and fragmentation of the social network may function adaptively as an early trigger to explore alternative foraging locations before local food sources are severely depleted.

Funding

Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Award: PTDC/BIAECO/32210/2017

Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Award: DL57/2016/CP1440/CT0011

Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Award: SFRH/BD/129002/2017

Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Award: SFRH/BD/148392/2019