Social networks predict patch discovery in a wild population of songbirds.
Aplin LM., Farine DR., Morand-Ferron J., Sheldon BC.
Animals use social information in a wide variety of contexts. Its extensive use by individuals to locate food patches has been documented in a number of species, and various mechanisms of discovery have been identified. However, less is known about whether individuals differ in their access to, and use of, social information to find food. We measured the social network of a wild population of three sympatric tit species (family Paridae) and then recorded individual discovery of novel food patches. By using recently developed methods for network-based diffusion analysis, we show that order of arrival at new food patches was predicted by social associations. Models based only on group searching did not explain this relationship. Furthermore, network position was correlated with likelihood of patch discovery, with central individuals more likely to locate and use novel foraging patches than those with limited social connections. These results demonstrate the utility of social network analysis as a method to investigate social information use, and suggest that the greater probability of receiving social information about new foraging patches confers a benefit on more socially connected individuals.