Pathways of information transmission among wild songbirds follow experimentally imposed changes in social foraging structure.
Firth JA., Sheldon BC., Farine DR.
Animals regularly use information from others to shape their decisions. Yet, determining how changes in social structure affect information flow and social learning strategies has remained challenging. We manipulated the social structure of a large community of wild songbirds by controlling which individuals could feed together at automated feeding stations (selective feeders). We then provided novel ephemeral food patches freely accessible to all birds and recorded the spread of this new information. We demonstrate that the discovery of new food patches followed the experimentally imposed social structure and that birds disproportionately learnt from those whom they could forage with at the selective feeders. The selective feeders reduced the number of conspecific information sources available and birds subsequently increased their use of information provided by heterospecifics. Our study demonstrates that changes to social systems carry over into pathways of information transfer and that individuals learn from tutors that provide relevant information in other contexts.