Winter food selection and exploratory behavior vary with natal territory characteristics in wild great tits

Eva Serrano-Davies, Nina Bircher, Bernice Sepers, Kees van Oers* (Corresponding author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Abstract: Differences in habitat characteristics experienced during rearing associate with variation in a range of behavioral phenotypes such as exploratory behavior, foraging behavior and food selection. The habitat-dependent selection hypothesis predicts that animals develop behavioral characteristics fitted to their rearing environment. Yet, little is known about how habitat characteristics during rearing shape how animals face winter conditions and adjust their winter foraging behavior. The aim of this study was to explore how fine-scale rearing habitat characteristics associate with exploratory behavior, food selection, and foraging performance during winter. For this, we measured habitat characteristics during the breeding season in territories of wild great tits (Parus major) and tested first-year juvenile birds that fledged from these territories for exploratory and foraging behavior at feeders during winter. We found evidence that faster explorers were raised in territories with lower quality habitat characteristics. In addition, fast exploring fledglings visited the feeders significantly more (total visits). Moreover, the rearing environment, via caterpillar availability and tree species composition, determined diet selection during winter in first-year birds. These results show support for the habitat-dependent selection hypothesis, since exploratory behavior as well as food selection during winter associate with habitat features of the rearing territories during development. This pattern can be caused either by the kinds of natural foods prevalent during rearing at these sites or because of intrinsic individual differences. Further experiments are needed to disentangle these two. Significance statement: Individuals vary in how they behaviorally adapt foraging and food selection strategies to the environmental conditions. A number of studies have shown that animals develop behavioral characteristics fitted to their rearing environment. However, how habitat characteristics during rearing shape the foraging strategy that animals use to face winter conditions is still unknown. We studied these links in yearling great tits using automated feeders that recorded their visits during winter. Fledglings with a higher exploratory score were born in territories with lower quality habitat characteristics and visited the feeders more. Furthermore, we found an association between caterpillar availability and tree species composition in the rearing territory of juveniles and their subsequent food selection in winter. Our study indicates that certain environmental conditions might favor the development of particular behaviors in birds and that early nutrition could shape food choice later in life.

Original languageEnglish
Article number69
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Volume77
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

Keywords

  • Exploratory behavior
  • Feeders
  • Habitat variability
  • Non-breeding season
  • Parus major

Research theme

  • Biodiversity

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