Seasonal changes in neophobia and its consistency in rooks: the effect of novelty type and dominance position
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Elsevier via the DOI in this record.
Neophobia, or the fear of novelty, may offer benefits to animals by limiting their exposure to unknown danger, but can also impose costs by preventing the exploration of potential resources. The costs and benefits of neophobia may vary throughout the year if predation pressure, resource distribution or conspecific competition changes seasonally. Despite such variation, neophobia levels are often assumed to be temporally and individually stable. Whether or not neophobia expression changes seasonally and fluctuates equally for all individuals is crucial to understanding the drivers, consequences and plasticity of novelty avoidance. We investigated seasonal differences and individual consistency in the motivation and novelty responses of a captive group of rooks, Corvus frugilegus, a seasonally breeding, colonial species of corvid that is known for being neophobic. We tested the group around novel objects and novel people to determine whether responses generalized across novelty types, and considered whether differences in dominance could influence the social risk of approaching unknown stimuli. We found that the group's level of object neophobia was stable year-round, but individuals were not consistent between seasons, despite being consistent within seasons. In contrast, the group's avoidance of novel people decreased during the breeding season, and individuals were consistent year-round. Additionally, although subordinate birds were more likely to challenge dominants during the breeding season, this social risk taking did not translate to greater novelty approach. Since seasonal variation and individual consistency varied differently towards each novelty type, responses towards novel objects and people seem to be governed by different mechanisms. Such a degree of fluctuation has consequences for other individually consistent behaviours often measured within the nonhuman personality literature.
A.L.G. received generous support from the Gates-Cambridge Trust. J.W.J was supported by a BBSRC scholarship and A.T. was funded by a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship (BB/H021817/1). Thanks also to the University of Cambridge for financial support.
Open Access funded by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Animal Behaviour, 2016, Vol. 121, pp. 11 - 20