Animals foraging in groups may benefit from a faster detection of food and predators, but competition by conspecifics may reduce intake rate. Competition may also alter the foraging behaviour of individuals, which can be influenced by dominance status and the way food is distributed over the environment. Many studies measuring the effects of competition and dominance status have been conducted on a uniform or highly clumped food distribution, while in reality prey distributions are often in-between these two extremes. The few studies that used a more natural food distribution only detected subtle effects of interference and dominance. We therefore conducted an experiment on a natural food distribution with focal mallards Anas platyrhynchos foraging alone and in a group of three, having a dominant, intermediate or subordinate dominance status. In this way, the foraging behaviour of the same individual in different treatments could be compared, and the effect of dominance was tested independently of individual identity. The experiment was balanced using a 4 × 4 Latin square design, with four focal and six non-focal birds. Individuals in a group achieved a similar intake rate (i.e. number of consumed seeds divided by trial length) as when foraging alone, because of an increase in the proportion of time feeding (albeit not significant for subordinate birds). Patch residence time and the number of different patches visited did not differ when birds were foraging alone or in a group. Besides some agonistic interactions, no differences in foraging behaviour between dominant, intermediate and subordinate birds were measured in group trials. Possibly group-foraging birds increased their feeding time because there was less need for vigilance or because they increased foraging intensity to compensate for competition. This study underlines that a higher competitor density does not necessarily lead to a lower intake rate, irrespective of dominance status.
Van Dijk, J. G. B., Duijns, S., Gyimesi, A., De Boer, W. F., & Nolet, B. A. (2012). Mallards feed longer to maintain intake rate under competition on a natural food distribution. Ethology, 118(2), 169-177. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0310.2011.01994.x