Organisation & development of anti-predator behaviour in a cooperative breeder
Westrip, James Robert Samuel
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In order to reduce their predation risk, species have evolved a range of anti-predator behaviours. One co-ordinated anti-predator behaviour present in some group-living species is sentinel behaviour. In this behaviour individuals take up an elevated position and scan for threats, providing an alarm when one is spotted. However, this behaviour can lead to social conflict. Sentinel behaviour is a public good, i.e. the benefits are felt by all group members, but the costs only accrue to the actor. Thus it may be open to free loading, requiring individuals to monitor collaborators to prevent cheats. Additionally, individuals may vary in their alarm call reliability, which may select individuals to alter their behaviour based on caller ID. Monitoring others requires individuals to be closely associated, yet individuals may be spread out. For instance, foraging groups may be some distance from their nest, yet nestlings are particularly vulnerable. Adults should reduce their number of nest visits if a threat is nearby, so individuals returning from the nest may be selected to communicate about any perceived threats. Additionally, when perceiving threats, species need not use only conspecific information, because heterospecifics can also provide relevant information. In this thesis, I test these ideas in the Southern Pied Babbler (Turdoides bicolor), and I show that a) pied babblers monitor the quantity and quality of group-mates’ anti-predator behaviour; b) babblers accompany naïve sentinels and I investigate whether this may be related to anti-predator teaching; c) babblers do not appear to actively communicate about perceived nest threats because they do not alter their provisioning rate based on heterospecific derived anti-predator information; while d) avian heterospecifics are more prevalent in the presence of pied babblers, and can be attracted to areas by playback of pied babbler calls. These results show that species monitor both conspecifics and heterospecifics, and alter their behaviour based on the information they collect.