Information transfer and gain in flocks: The effects of quality and quantity of social information at different neighbour distances
Fernández-Juricic E., Kacelnik A.
We assessed experimentally how the quality and quantity of social information affected foraging decisions of starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) at different neighbour distances, and how individuals gained social information as a function of head position. Our experimental set up comprised three bottomless enclosures, each housing one individual placed on a line at different distances. The birds in the extreme enclosures were labelled "senders" and the one in the centre "receiver". We manipulated the foraging opportunities of senders (enhanced, natural, no-foraging), and recorded the behaviour of the receiver. In the first experiment, receivers responded to the condition of senders. Their searching rate and food intake increased when senders foraged in enhanced conditions, and decreased in no-foraging conditions, in relation to natural conditions. Scanning was oriented more in the direction of conspecifics when senders' behaviour departed from normal. In the second experiment, responses were "dose dependent": receivers increased their searching rate and orientated their gaze more towards conspecifics with the number of senders foraging in enhanced food conditions. In no-foraging conditions, receivers decreased their searching and intake rates with the number of senders, but no variation was found in scanning towards conspecifics. Differences in foraging and scanning behaviour between enhanced and no-foraging conditions were much lower when neighbours were separated farther. Overall, information transfer within starling flocks affects individual foraging and scanning behaviour, with receivers monitoring and copying senders' behaviour mainly when neighbours are close. Information transfer may be related to predation information (responding to the vigilance of conspecifics) and foraging information (responding to the feeding success of conspecifics). Both sources of information, balanced by neighbour distance, may simultaneously affect the behaviour of individuals in natural conditions.