Contagious risk taking: social information and context influence wild jackdaws' responses to novelty and risk
Nature Publishing Group
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Although wild animals increasingly encounter human-produced food and objects, it is unknown how they learn to discriminate beneficial from dangerous novelty. Since social learning allows animals to capitalize on the risk-taking of others, and avoid endangering themselves, social learning should be used around novel and unpredictable stimuli. However, it is unclear whether animals use social cues equally around all types of novelty and at all times of year. We assessed whether wild, individually marked jackdaws-a highly neophobic, yet adaptable species-are equally influenced by social cues to consume novel, palatable foods and to approach a startling object. We conducted these tests across two seasons, and found that in both seasons observers were more likely to consume novel foods after seeing a demonstrator do so. In contrast, observers only followed the demonstrator in foraging next to the object during breeding season. Throughout the year more birds were wary of consuming novel foods than wary of approaching the object, potentially leading to jackdaws' greater reliance on social information about food. Jackdaws' dynamic social cue usage demonstrates the importance of context in predicting how social information is used around novelty, and potentially indicates the conditions that facilitate animals' adjustment to anthropogenic disturbance.
We are very grateful to Paul Gluyas and the staff at Pencoose farm and to Stithians Parish Council for allowing us to work on their land. We thank Nicola Marples for early discussion, Neeltje Boogert, and Thomas Bugynar for feedback on the manuscript, Laura Kelly for help with the colour analysis, and the Wild Cognition Research Group and Comparative Cognition Lab for discussion. A.L.G. is supported by the generosity of the GatesCambridge Trust. A.T. was supported by a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship (BB/H021817/1).
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Vol. 6: 27764
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