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13 Mar 2021
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Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal

Dispersal: from “neutral” to a state- and context-dependent view

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Traditionally, dispersal has often been seen as “random” or “neutral” as Lowe & McPeek (2014) have put it. This simplistic view is likely due to dispersal being intrinsically difficult to measure empirically as well as “random” dispersal being a convenient simplifying assumption in theoretical work. Clobert et al. (2009), and many others, have highlighted how misleading this assumption is. Rather, dispersal seems to be usually a complex reaction norm, depending both on internal as well as external factors. One such internal factor is the sex of the dispersing individual. A recent review of the theoretical literature (Li & Kokko 2019) shows that while ideas explaining sex-biased dispersal go back over 40 years this state-dependency of dispersal is far from comprehensively understood.

Sevchik et al. (2021) tackle this challenge empirically in a bird species, the great-tailed grackle. In contrast to most bird species, where females disperse more than males, the authors report genetic evidence indicating male-biased dispersal. The authors argue that this difference can be explained by the great-tailed grackle’s social and mating-system.

Dispersal is a central life-history trait (Bonte & Dahirel 2017) with major consequences for ecological and evolutionary processes and patterns. Therefore, studies like Sevchik et al. (2021) are valuable contributions for advancing our understanding of spatial ecology and evolution. Importantly, Sevchik et al. also lead to way to a more open and reproducible science of ecology and evolution. The authors are among the pioneers of preregistering research in their field and their way of doing research should serve as a model for others.


Bonte, D. & Dahirel, M. (2017) Dispersal: a central and independent trait in life history. Oikos 126: 472-479. doi:

Clobert, J., Le Galliard, J. F., Cote, J., Meylan, S. & Massot, M. (2009) Informed dispersal, heterogeneity in animal dispersal syndromes and the dynamics of spatially structured populations. Ecol. Lett.: 12, 197-209. doi:

Li, X.-Y. & Kokko, H. (2019) Sex-biased dispersal: a review of the theory. Biol. Rev. 94: 721-736. doi:

Lowe, W. H. & McPeek, M. A. (2014) Is dispersal neutral? Trends Ecol. Evol. 29: 444-450. doi:

Sevchik, A., Logan, C. J., McCune, K. B., Blackwell, A., Rowney, C. & Lukas, D. (2021) Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal. EcoEvoRxiv,, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer community in Ecology. doi:

Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersalSevchik, A., Logan, C. J., McCune, K. B., Blackwell, A., Rowney, C. and Lukas, D<p>In most bird species, females disperse prior to their first breeding attempt, while males remain closer to the place they hatched for their entire lives. Explanations for such female bias in natal dispersal have focused on the resource-defense ...Behaviour & Ethology, Dispersal & Migration, ZoologyEmanuel A. Fronhofer2020-08-24 17:53:06 View
12 Oct 2019
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Investigating the use of learning mechanisms in a species that is rapidly expanding its geographic range

How would variation in environmental predictability affect the use of different learning mechanisms in a social bird?

Recommended by based on reviews by Matthew Petelle and 1 anonymous reviewer

In their pre-registered paper [1], McCune and colleagues propose a field-based study of social versus individual learning mechanisms in an avian species (great-tailed grackles) that has been expanding its geographic range. The study forms part of a longer-term project that addresses various aspects of this species’ behaviour and biology, and the experience of the team is clear from the preprint. Assessing variation in learning mechanisms in different sections of the grackles’ distribution range, the researchers will investigate how individual learning and social transmission may impact learning about novel challenges in the environment. Considering that this is a social species, the authors expect both individual learning and social transmission to occur, when groups of grackles encounter new challenges/ opportunities in the wild. This in itself is not a very unusual idea to test [2, 3], but the authors are rigorously distinguishing between imitation, emulation, local enhancement, and social enhancement. Such rigour is certainly valuable in studies of cognition in the wild.
Further, the authors predict that the contribution of individual versus social learning could vary between populations, as the core may contain fewer unfamiliar/novel stimuli than the edge, where artificial sources of water (for example) may be more common. They make an argument that the core, middle, and edge populations would experience differing levels of environmental predictability. If true, their field experiments could yield very novel results on how changes in environmental predictability affect social/individual learning in a single study species. Their data would then give unusual insights into the ecological value of individual learning and distinct forms of social learning – something that is not easy to test in wild animals. The authors consider a variety of alternative hypotheses that may ultimately explain their findings, and clarify their methods and analyses in fine detail. The authors also set out limitations clearly, and give a thorough account of their approaches and thinking.
The reviewers and I have a still-unanswered question, which is central to the study: what is the predictability or unpredictability of the core versus edge environments? Although the authors have explained similarities and distinctions between the different sections of the grackles’ range, their description feels a bit vague -- it's not as rigorous or well-defined as the rest of the paper. Such a lack of definition may be inevitable in the limitations of a preprint, but ultimately it does suggest that there may be real uncertainty about the qualitative differences between the core, edge, and middle environments. The authors do explain that a lack of variation in individual responses to the field experiments would preclude the testing of further hypothesis, but do not mention how a salient lack of variation in novelty/ predictability between the environments could impact their hypotheses.
An assessment/quantification of the rate at which the different populations of grackles encounter novel stimuli would be a cornerstone of the success of this proposed study. Certainly, the authors cannot address this in much more detail during the preprint stage, but they need to consider how to best assess/describe differences before starting the full study. Such an assessment could take the form of either a GIS desktop study (comparing, for example, rates of dam/canal construction in core versus edge sections of the distribution range), or observational/ movement data contrasting how frequently members of core versus edge populations encounter artificial sources of water/food in a given month/year. Considering the long-term nature of the larger project, it is possible that these data are already available, but I am speculating. I would highly recommend that such an assessment be undertaken, beyond the mere mention of expected differences. This would solidify the central idea that there are concrete differences between the environments.
Despite this concern, the authors attended well to the comments and recommendations of the two reviewers – both experts in cognitive ecology. It is a preprint showing clear thinking and a consideration of most of the challenges that may be encountered during the course of the study. My own opinion and the estimations of the two reviewers all underscore the originality and value of this project – this should be a very valuable and potentially novel study. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of the research.


[1] McCune, K. B., McElreath, R., and Logan, C. J. (2019). Investigating the use of learning mechanisms in a species that is rapidly expanding its geographic range. In principle recommendation by Peer Community In Ecology.
[2] Benson-Amram, S. and Holekamp, K. E. (2012). Innovative problem solving by wild spotted hyenas. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1744), 4087–4095. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1450
[3] Federspiel, I. G., Boeckle, M., von Bayern, A. M. P. and Emery, N. J. (2019). Exploring individual and social learning in jackdaws (Corvus monedula). Learning & Behavior, 47(3), 258–270. doi: 10.3758/s13420-019-00383-8

Investigating the use of learning mechanisms in a species that is rapidly expanding its geographic rangeKelsey McCune, Richard McElreath, Corina LoganThis is one of many studies planned for our long-term research on the role of behavior and learning in rapid geographic range expansions. Project background: Behavioral flexibility, the ability to change behavior when circumstances change based on...Behaviour & Ethology, Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Foraging, Preregistrations, Social structure, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, ZoologyAliza le Roux2019-07-23 18:45:20 View
22 Nov 2021
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Beating your neighbor to the berry patch

When more competitors means less harvested resource

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Francois Massol, Jeremy Van Cleve and 1 anonymous reviewer

In this paper, Alan R. Rogers (2021) examines the dynamics of foraging strategies for a resource that gains value over time (e.g., ripening fruits), while there is a fixed cost of attempting to forage the resource, and once the resource is harvested nothing is left for other harvesters. For this model, not any pure foraging strategy is evolutionary stable. A mixed equilibrium exists, i.e., with a mixture of foraging strategies within the population, which is still evolutionarily unstable. Nonetheless, Alan R. Rogers shows that for a large number of competitors and/or high harvesting cost, the mixture of strategies remains close to the mixed equilibrium when simulating the dynamics. Surprisingly, in a large population individuals will less often attempt to forage the resource and will instead “go fishing”. The paper also exposes an experiment of the game with students, which resulted in a strategy distribution somehow close to the theoretical mixture of strategies.

The economist John F. Nash Jr. (1950) gained the Nobel Prize of economy in 1994 for his game theoretical contributions. He gave his name to the “Nash equilibrium”, which represents a set of individual strategies that is reached whenever all the players have nothing to gain by changing their strategy while the strategies of others are unchanged. Alan R. Rogers shows that the mixed equilibrium in the foraging game is such a Nash equilibrium. Yet it is evolutionarily unstable insofar as a distribution close to the equilibrium can invade.

The insights of the study are twofold. First, it sheds light on the significance of Nash equilibrium in an ecological context of foraging strategies. Second, it shows that an evolutionarily unstable state can rule the composition of the ecological system. Therefore, the contribution made by the paper should be most significant to better understand the dynamics of competitive communities and their eco-evolutionary trajectories. 


Nash JF (1950) Equilibrium points in n-person games. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 36, 48–49.

Rogers AR (2021) Beating your Neighbor to the Berry Patch. bioRxiv, 2020.11.12.380311, ver. 8 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.


Beating your neighbor to the berry patchAlan R. Rogers<p style="text-align: justify;">Foragers often compete for resources that ripen (or otherwise improve) gradually. What strategy is optimal in this situation? It turns out that there is no optimal strategy. There is no evolutionarily stable strateg...Behaviour & Ethology, Evolutionary ecology, ForagingFrançois Munoz, , Erol Akçay, , Jorge Peña, Sébastien Lion, , , , François Rousset, 2020-12-10 18:38:49 View
10 Jun 2018
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A reply to “Ranging Behavior Drives Parasite Richness: A More Parsimonious Hypothesis”

Does elevated parasite richness in the environment affect daily path length of animals or is it the converse? An answer bringing some new elements of discussion

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

In 2015, Brockmeyer et al. [1] suggested that mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) may accept additional ranging costs to avoid heavily parasitized areas. Following this paper, Bicca-Marques and Calegaro-Marques [2] questioned this interpretation and presented other hypotheses. To summarize, whilst Brockmeyer et al. [1] proposed that elevated daily path length may be a consequence of elevated parasite richness, Bicca-Marques and Calegaro-Marques [2] viewed it as a cause. In this current paper, Charpentier and Kappeler [3] respond to some of the criticisms by Bicca-Marques and Calegaro-Marques and discuss the putative parsimony of the two competing scenarios. The manuscript is interesting and focuses on an important question concerning the discussion about the social organization and home range use in wild mandrills. This answer helps to move this debate forward and should stimulate more empirical studies of the role of environmentally-transmitted parasites in shaping ranging and movement patterns of wild vertebrates. Given the elements this paper brings to the topics, it should have been published in American Journal of Primatology, the journal that published the two previous articles.


[1] Brockmeyer, T., Kappeler, P. M., Willaume, E., Benoit, L., Mboumba, S., & Charpentier, M. J. E. (2015). Social organization and space use of a wild mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) group. American Journal of Primatology, 77(10), 1036–1048. doi: 10.1002/ajp.22439
[2] Bicca-Marques, J. C., & Calegaro-Marques, C. (2016). Ranging behavior drives parasite richness: A more parsimonious hypothesis. American Journal of Primatology, 78(9), 923–927. doi: 10.1002/ajp.22561
[3] Charpentier, M. J., & Kappeler, P. M. (2018). A reply to “Ranging Behavior Drives Parasite Richness: A More Parsimonious Hypothesis.” ArXiv:1805.08151v2 [q-Bio]. Retrieved from

A reply to “Ranging Behavior Drives Parasite Richness: A More Parsimonious Hypothesis”Charpentier MJE, Kappeler PMIn a recent article, Bicca-Marques and Calegaro-Marques [2016] discussed the putative assumptions related to an interpretation we provided regarding an observed positive relationship between weekly averaged parasite richness of a group of mandrill...Behaviour & Ethology, Evolutionary ecology, Foraging, Host-parasite interactions, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, ZoologyCédric Sueur2018-05-22 10:59:33 View
03 Apr 2020
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Body temperatures, life history, and skeletal morphology in the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)

Is vertebral count in mammals influenced by developmental temperature? A study with Dasypus novemcinctus

Recommended by based on reviews by Darin Croft and ?

Mammals show a very low level of variation in vertebral count, both among and within species, in comparison to other vertebrates [1]. Jordan’s rule for fishes states that the vertebral number among species increases with latitude, due to ambient temperatures during development [2]. Temperature has also been shown to influence vertebral count within species in fish [3], amphibians [4], and birds [5]. However, in mammals the count appears to be constrained, on the one hand, by a possible relationship between the development of the skeleton and the proliferations of cell lines with associated costs (neural malformations, cancer etc., [6]), and on the other by the cervical origin of the diaphragm [7].
Knight et al. [8] investigate the effect of intrauterine temperature variation on skeletal morphology during development, and focus on a particular mammal, Dasypus novemcinctus, or nine-banded armadillo. Armadillos (Xenarthra) and are characterized by relatively low body temperatures and low basal rates of metabolism. Dasypus novemcinctus is the only xenarthran mammal to have naturally expanded its range into the middle latitudes of the U.S., and one of the few mammals that invaded North America from South America. It is one of few placentals that withstand considerable decrease of body temperature without torpor. It presents a resting body temperature that is low and variable for a placental mammal of its size [9] and is the only vertebrate that gives birth to monozygotic quadruplets. Among 42 monotreme, marsupial and placental genera, Dasypus novemcinctus shows the highest variation of thoracolumbar vertebral count [10].
The particularities of Dasypus novemcinctus regarding vertebral count variation and ability to withstand variable temperature qualify it as a target organism for study of the relationship between skeleton morphology and temperature in mammals.
Knight et al. [8] explored variability in vertebral count within Dasypus novemcinctus to understand whether temperature during development determines skeleton morphology. To this end they experimented with 22 armadillos (19 with data) and litters from 12 pregnant females, in two environments, for three years — an impressive effort and experimental setup. Moreover, they used a wide variety of advanced experimental and analytical techniques. For example, they implanted intra-abdominal, long-term temperature recorders, which recorded data every 6 to 120 minutes for up to several months. They analysed body temperature periodicity by approximation of the recordings with Fourier series, and they CT-scanned fetuses.
All 19 individuals (from which data could be gathered) exhibited substantial daily variation in body temperature. Several intriguing results emerged such as the counter-intuitive finding that the mammals’ body temperature fluctuates more indoors than outdoors. Furthermore, three females (out of 12) were found to have offspring with atypical skeletons, and two of these mothers presented an extremely low internal temperature early in pregnancy. Additionally, genetically identical quadruplets differed skeletally among themselves within two litters.
Results are not yet definitive about the relationship of temperature during development and vertebral count in Dasypus novemcinctus. However, Knight et al. [8] demonstrated that nine-banded armadillos survive with high daily internal temperature fluctuations and successfully bring to term offspring which vary in skeletal morphology among and within genetically identical litters despite major temperature extremes.


[1] Hautier L, Weisbecker V, Sánchez-Villagra MR, Goswami A, Asher RJ (2010) Skeletal development in sloths and the evolution of mammalian vertebral patterning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107, 18903–18908. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1010335107
[2] Jordan, D.S. (1892) Relations of temperature to vertebrae among fishes. Proceedings of the United States National Museum, 1891, 107-120. doi: 10.5479/si.00963801.14-845.107
[3] Tibblin P, Berggren H, Nordahl O, Larsson P, Forsman A (2016) Causes and consequences of intra-specific variation in vertebral number. Scientific Reports, 6, 1–12. doi: 10.1038/srep26372
[4] Peabody RB, Brodie ED (1975) Effect of temperature, salinity and photoperiod on the number of trunk vertebrae in Ambystoma maculatum. Copeia, 1975, 741–746. doi: 10.2307/1443326
[5] Lindsey CC, Moodie GEE (1967) The effect of incubation temperature on vertebral count in the chicken. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 45, 891–892. doi: 10.1139/z67-099
[6] Galis F, Dooren TJMV, Feuth JD, Metz JAJ, Witkam A, Ruinard S, Steigenga MJ, Wunaendts LCD (2006) Extreme selection in humans against homeotic transformations of cervical vertebrae. Evolution, 60, 2643–2654. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2006.tb01896.x
[7] Buchholtz EA, Stepien CC (2009) Anatomical transformation in mammals: developmental origin of aberrant cervical anatomy in tree sloths. Evolution and Development, 11, 69–79. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-142X.2008.00303.x
[8] Knight F, Connor C, Venkataramanan R, Asher RJ. (2020). Body temperatures, life history, and skeletal morphology in the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). PCI-Ecology. doi: 10.17863/CAM.50971
[9] McNab BK (1980) Energetics and the limits to a temperate distribution in armadillos. Journal of Mammalogy, 61, 606–627. doi: 10.2307/1380307
[10] Asher RJ, Lin KH, Kardjilov N, Hautier L (2011) Variability and constraint in the mammalian vertebral column. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 24, 1080–1090. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2011.02240.x

Body temperatures, life history, and skeletal morphology in the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)Frank Knight, Cristin Connor, Ramji Venkataramanan, Robert J. Asher<p>The nine banded armadillo (*Dasypus novemcinctus*) is the only xenarthran mammal to have naturally expanded its range into the middle latitudes of the USA. It is not known to hibernate, but has been associated with unusually labile core body te...Behaviour & Ethology, Evolutionary ecology, Life history, Physiology, ZoologyMar Sobral2019-11-22 22:57:31 View
26 May 2023
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Using repeatability of performance within and across contexts to validate measures of behavioral flexibility

Do reversal learning methods measure behavioral flexibility?

Recommended by based on reviews by Maxime Dahirel and Aparajitha Ramesh

Assessing the reliability of the methods we use in actually measuring the intended trait should be one of our first priorities when designing a study – especially when the trait in question is not directly observable and is measured through a proxy. 

This is the case for cognitive traits, which are often quantified through measures of behavioral performance. Behavioral flexibility is of particular interest in the context of great environmental changes that a lot of populations have to experiment. This type of behavioral performance is often measured through reversal learning experiments (Bond 2007). In these experiments, individuals first learn a preference, for example for an object of a certain type of form or color, associated with a reward such as food. The characteristics of the rewarded object then change, and the individuals hence have to learn these new characteristics (to get the reward). The time needed by the individual to make this change in preference has been considered a measure of behavioral flexibility.

Although reversal learning experiments have been widely used, their construct validity to assess behavioral flexibility has not been thoroughly tested. This was the aim of McCune and collaborators' (2023) study, through the test of the repeatability of individual performance within and across contexts of reversal learning, in the great-tailed grackle.

This manuscript presents a post-study of the preregistered study* (Logan et al. 2019) that was peer-reviewed and received an In Principle Recommendation for PCI Ecology (Coulon 2019; the initial preregistration was split into 3 post-studies).
Using 34 great-tailed grackles wild-caught in Tempe, Arizona (USA), the authors tested in aviaries 2 hypotheses:

  • First, that the behavioral flexibility measured by reversal learning is repeatable within individuals across sessions of the same experiment;
  • Second, that there is repeatability of the measured behavioral flexibility (within individuals) across different types of reversal learning experiments (context).

The first hypothesis was tested by measuring the repeatability of the time needed by individuals to switch color preference in a color reversal learning task (colored tubes), over serial sessions of this task. The second one was tested by measuring the time needed by individuals to switch solutions, within 3 different contexts: (1) colored tubes, (2) plastic and (3) wooden multi-access boxes involving several ways to access food.

Despite limited sample sizes, the results of these experiments suggest that there is both temporal and contextual repeatability of behavioral flexibility performance of great-tailed grackles, as measured by reversal learning experiments.

Those results are a first indication of the construct validity of reversal learning experiments to assess behavioral flexibility. As highlighted by McCune and collaborators, it is now necessary to assess the discriminant validity of these experiments, i.e. checking that a different performance is obtained with tasks (experiments) that are supposed to measure different cognitive abilities.
* A pre-registered study is a study in which context, aims, hypotheses and methodologies have been written down as an empirical paper, peer-reviewed and pre-accepted before research is undertaken. Pre-registrations are intended to reduce publication bias and reporting bias.
Bond, A. B., Kamil, A. C., & Balda, R. P. (2007). Serial reversal learning and the evolution of behavioral
flexibility in three species of north american corvids (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus, Nucifraga columbiana,
Aphelocoma californica). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 121 (4), 372.

Coulon, A. (2019) Can context changes improve behavioral flexibility? Towards a better understanding of species adaptability to environmental changes. Peer Community in Ecology, 100019.

Logan, CJ, Lukas D, Bergeron L, Folsom M, & McCune, K. (2019).  Is behavioral flexibility related to foraging and social behavior in a rapidly expanding species? In Principle Acceptance by PCI Ecology of the Version on 6 Aug 2019.

McCune KB, Blaisdell AP, Johnson-Ulrich Z, Lukas D, MacPherson M, Seitz BM, Sevchik A, Logan CJ (2023) Using repeatability of performance within and across contexts to validate measures of behavioral flexibility. EcoEvoRxiv, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Using repeatability of performance within and across contexts to validate measures of behavioral flexibilityMcCune KB, Blaisdell AP, Johnson-Ulrich Z, Lukas D, MacPherson M, Seitz BM, Sevchik A, Logan CJ<p style="text-align: justify;">Research into animal cognitive abilities is increasing quickly and often uses methods where behavioral performance on a task is assumed to represent variation in the underlying cognitive trait. However, because thes...Behaviour & Ethology, Evolutionary ecology, Preregistrations, ZoologyAurélie Coulon2022-08-15 20:56:42 View
15 Nov 2023
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The challenges of independence: ontogeny of at-sea behaviour in a long-lived seabird

On the road to adulthood: exploring progressive changes in foraging behaviour during post-fledging immaturity using remote tracking

Recommended by based on reviews by Juliet Lamb and 1 anonymous reviewer

In most vertebrate species, the period of life spanning from departure from the growing site until reaching a more advanced life stage (immature or adult) is critical. During this period, juveniles are often highly vulnerable because they have not reached the morphological, physiological and behavioural maturity levels of adults yet and are therefore at high risk of mortality, e.g. through starvation, depredation or competition (e.g. Marchetti & Price 1989, Wunderle 1991, Naef-Daenzer & Grüebler 2016). In line with this, juvenile survival is most often far lower than adult survival (e.g. Wooller et al. 1992). In species with parental care, juveniles have to acquire behavioural independence from their parents and possibly establish their own territory during this period of life. Very often, this is also the period that is least well-known in the life cycle (Cox et al. 2014, Naef-Daenzer & Grüebler 2016) because of reduced accessibility to individuals and/or adoption of low conspicuous behaviours. Therefore, our understanding of how juveniles acquire typical adult behaviours and how this progressively increases their survival prospects is still very limited (Naef-Daenzer & Grüebler 2016), and questions such as the length of this transition period or the cognitive (e.g. learning, memorization) mechanisms involved remain largely unresolved. This is particularly true regarding the acquisition of independent foraging behaviour (Marchetti & Price 1989).

Because direct observations of juvenile behaviours are usually very difficult except in specific situations or at the cost of an enormous effort, the use of remote tracking devices can be particularly appealing in this context (e.g. Ponchon et al. 2013, Kays et al. 2015). Over the past decades, technical advances have allowed the monitoring of not only individuals’ movements at both large and small spatial scales but also their activities and behaviours based on different parameters recording e.g. speed of movement or diving depth (Whitford & Klimley 2019). Device miniaturization has in particular allowed smaller species to be equipped and/or longer periods of time to be monitored (e.g. Naef-Daenzer et al. 2005). This has opened up whole fields of research, and has been particularly used on marine seabirds. In these species, individuals are most often inaccessible when at sea, representing most of the time outside (and even within) the breeding season, and the life cycle of these long-lived species can include an extended immature period (up to many years) during which most of them will remain unseen, until they come back as breeders or pre-breeders (e.g. Wooller et al. 1992, Oro & Martínez-Abraín 2009). Survival has been found to increase gradually with age in these species before reaching high values characteristic of the adult stage. However, the mechanisms underlying this increase are still to be deciphered.

The study by Delord et al. (2023) builds upon the hypothesis that juveniles gradually learn foraging techniques and movement strategies, improving their foraging efficiency, as previous data on flight parameters seemed to show in different long-lived bird species. Yet, these previous studies obtained data over a limited period of time, i.e. a few months at best. Whether these data could capture the whole dynamics of the progressive acquisition of foraging and movement skills can only be assessed by measuring behaviour over a longer time period and comparing it to similar data in adults, to account for seasonal variation in relation to both resource availability and energetic demands, e.g. due to molt.

The present study (Delord et al. 2023) addresses these questions by taking advantage of longer-lasting recordings of the location and activity of juvenile, immature and adult birds obtained simultaneously to investigate changes over time in juvenile behaviour and thereby provide hints about how young progressively acquire foraging skills. This study is performed on Amsterdam albatrosses, a highly endangered long-lived sea bird, with obvious conservation issues (Thiebot et al. 2015). The results show progressive changes in foraging effort over the first two months after departure from the birth colony, but large differences remain between life stages over a much longer time frame. They also reveal strong variations between sexes and over time in the year. Overall, this study, therefore, confirms the need for very long-term data to be collected in order to address the question of progressive behavioural maturation and associated survival consequences in such species with strongly deferred maturity. Ideally, the same individuals should be monitored over different life stages, from the juvenile period up to adulthood, but this would require further technical development to release the issue of powering duration limitation.

As reviewers emphasized in the first review round, one main challenge now remains to ascertain the outcome of the observed behavioural changes in foraging behaviour: we expect them to reflect improvement in foraging skills and thus performance of juveniles over time, but this would need to be tested. Collecting data on foraging efficiency is yet another challenge, that future technical developments may also help overcome. Importantly also, data were available only for individuals that could be caught again because the tracking device had to be retrieved from the bird. Here, a substantial fraction of the loggers (one-fifth) could not be found again (Delord et al. 2023). To what extent the birds for which no data could be obtained are a random sample of the equipped birds would also need to be assessed. The further development of remote tracking techniques allowing data to be downloaded from a long distance should help further exploration of behavioural ontogeny of juveniles while maturing and its survival consequences. Because the maturation process explored here is likely to show very different characteristics (e.g. timing and speed) in smaller / shorter-lived species (see Cox et al. 2014, Naef-Daenzer & Grüebler 2016), the development of miniaturization is also expected to allow further investigation of post-fledging behavioural maturation in a wider range of bird species. Our understanding of this crucial life phase in different types of species should thus continue to progress in the coming years.


Cox W. A., Thompson F. R. III, Cox A. S. & Faaborg J. 2014. Post-fledging survival in passerine birds and the value of post-fledging studies to conservation. Journal of Wildlife Management, 78: 183-193.

Delord K., Weimerskirch H. & Barbraud C. 2023. The challenges of independence: ontogeny of at-sea behaviour in a long-lived seabird. bioRxiv, ver. 6 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Kays R., Crofoot M. C., Jetz W. & Wikelski M. 2015. Terrestrial animal tracking as an eye on life and planet. Science, 348 (6240).

Marchetti K: & Price T. 1989. Differences in the foraging of juvenile and adult birds: the importance of developmental constraints. Biological Reviews, 64: 51-70.

Naef-Daenzer B., Fruh D., Stalder M., Wetli P. & Weise E. 2005. Miniaturization (0.2 g) and evaluation of attachment techniques of telemetry transmitters. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 208: 4063–4068.

Naef-Daenzer B. & Grüebler M. U. 2016. Post-fledging survival of altricial birds: ecological determinants and adaptation. Journal of Field Ornithology, 87: 227-250.

Oro D. & Martínez-Abraín A. 2009. Ecology and behavior of seabirds. Marine Ecology, pp.364-389.

Ponchon A., Grémillet D., Doligez B., Chambert T., Tveera T., Gonzàles-Solìs J & Boulinier T. 2013. Tracking prospecting movements involved in breeding habitat selection: insights, pitfalls and perspectives. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 4: 143-150.

Thiebot J.-B., Delord K., Barbraud C., Marteau C. & Weimerskirch H. 2015. 167 individuals versus millions of hooks: bycatch mitigation in longline fisheries underlies conservation of Amsterdam albatrosses. Aquatic Conservation 26: 674-688.

Whitford M & Klimley A. P. An overview of behavioral, physiological, and environmental sensors used in animal biotelemetry and biologging studies. Animal Biotelemetry, 7: 26.

Wooller R.D., Bradley J. S. & Croxall J. P. 1992. Long-term population studies of seabirds. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 7: 111-114.

Wunderle J. M. 1991. Age-specific foraging proficiency in birds. Current Ornithology, 8: 273-324.

The challenges of independence: ontogeny of at-sea behaviour in a long-lived seabirdKarine Delord, Henri Weimerskirch, Christophe Barbraud<p style="text-align: justify;">The transition to independent foraging represents an important developmental stage in the life cycle of most vertebrate animals. Juveniles differ from adults in various life history traits and tend to survive less w...Behaviour & Ethology, Foraging, OntogenyBlandine Doligez2021-10-26 07:51:49 View
28 Sep 2020
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The dynamics of spawning acts by a semelparous fish and its associated energetic costs

Extreme weight loss: when accelerometer could reveal reproductive investment in a semelparous fish species

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Aidan Jonathan Mark Hewison, Loïc Teulier and 1 anonymous reviewer

Continuous observation of animal behaviour could be quite a challenge in the field, and the situation becomes even more complicated with aquatic species mostly active at night. In such cases, biologging techniques are real game changers in ecology, behavioural ecology or eco-physiology. An accelerating number of methodological applications of these tools in natural condition are thus published each year [1]. Biologging is not limited to movement ecology. For instance, fine grain information about energy expenditure can be inferred from body acceleration [2], and accelerometers has already proven useful in monitoring reproductive costs in some fish species [3,4]. The first part of the study by Tentelier et al. [5] is in line with this growing literature. It describes measurements of energy expenditure during reproduction in a fish species, Allis shad (Alosa Alosa), based on tail beat frequency and occurrence of spawning acts. The study has been convincingly conducted, and the results are important for fish biologists. But this is not the whole story: the authors added to this otherwise classical study a very original and insightful analysis which deserves closer interest.
Tentelier et al. propose to use static accelerometer to monitor change in body roundness through the reproductive season. These semelparous fish first mature and built up reserves in the Atlantic Ocean and migrate into fresh water to reproduce. Contrary to iteroparous species, female shads do not have to strategically preserve energy for future reproduction. The females die few days after spawning having exhausted their energetic reserves: they typically lose almost half of their body mass during the spawning season. The beautiful idea in this study was to track down information about this dramatic slimming in the accelerometer data. Indeed, the accelerometer was attached on the side of the fish (close to the dorsal fin). A change in its angle with the vertical plane could be correlated with the change in roundness, the angle declining with the female thinning. Accelerometers have already been used to record body posture [6] but, in the present study, the novelty was to monitor the change in body shape.
Unfortunately, the data by Tentelier et al. are inconclusive so far. Broadly speaking, the accelerometer angle recorded declined through the spawning season, indicating an average slimming of the females, but there was no correlation between the change in angle and the mass loss at the individual level. This was partly due to the fact that the dorsal position of the accelerometer was not optimized to measures egg laying whose effects are mostly observable on ventral side.
Yet, this nice idea deserves more scrutiny. The method seems to be sensitive enough to detect inflation of swim bladder, the gas-filled organ helping the fish to control their position in the water column, as the accelerometer angle increased when the fish stayed close to the water surface. Additional works and proper calibration are certainly needed to validate the use of accelerometer angle as a proxy for body roundness. The actual data were not strong enough to justify a standalone publication on the subject, but it would have been shame to lose traces of such analysis and keep it in the file drawer. This is why I strongly support its report as a side question in a broader study. Science progresses not only with neat conclusive studies but also when unexpected (apparently anecdotal) observations stimulate new researches.


[1] Börger L, Bijleveld AI, Fayet AL, Machovsky‐Capuska GE, Patrick SC, Street GM and Vander Wal E. (2020) Biologging special feature. J. Anim. Ecol. 89, 6–15. 10.1111/1365-2656.13163
[2] Wilson RP et al. (2020) Estimates for energy expenditure in free‐living animals using acceleration proxies: A reappraisal. J. Anim. Ecol. 89, 161–172. 10.1111/1365-2656.13040
[3] Tsuda Y, Kawabe R, Tanaka H, Mitsunaga Y, Hiraishi T, Yamamoto K and Nashimoto K. (2006) Monitoring the spawning behaviour of chum salmon with an acceleration data logger. Ecol. Freshw. Fish 15, 264–274. 10.1111/j.1600-0633.2006.00147.x
[4] Sakaji H, Hamada K, Naito Y. 2018 Identifying spawning events of greater amberjack using accelerometers. Mar. Biol. Res. 14, 637–641. 10.1080/17451000.2018.1492140
[5] Tentelier C, Bouchard C, Bernardin A, Tauzin A, Aymes J-C, Lange F, Récapet C, Rives J (2020) The dynamics of spawning acts by a semelparous fish and its associated energetic costs. bioRxiv, 436295. doi: 10.1101/436295 ver. 7 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. 10.1101/436295
[6] Brown DD, Kays R, Wikelski M, Wilson R, Klimley AP. 2013 Observing the unwatchable through acceleration logging of animal behavior. Anim. Biotelemetry 1, 20. 10.1186/2050-3385-1-20

The dynamics of spawning acts by a semelparous fish and its associated energetic costsCédric Tentelier, Colin Bouchard, Anaïs Bernardin, Amandine Tauzin, Jean-Christophe Aymes, Frédéric Lange, Charlotte Recapet, Jacques Rives<p>1. During the reproductive season, animals have to manage both their energetic budget and gamete stock. In particular, for semelparous capital breeders with determinate fecundity and no parental care other than gametic investment, the depletion...Behaviour & Ethology, Freshwater ecology, Life historyFrancois-Xavier Dechaume-Moncharmont2020-06-04 15:18:56 View
29 Sep 2023
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MoveFormer: a Transformer-based model for step-selection animal movement modelling

A deep learning model to unlock secrets of animal movement and behaviour

Recommended by based on reviews by Jacob Davidson and 1 anonymous reviewer

The study of animal movement is essential for understanding their behaviour and how ecological or global changes impact their routines [1]. Recent technological advancements have improved the collection of movement data [2], but limited statistical tools have hindered the analysis of such data [3–5]. Animal movement is influenced not only by environmental factors but also by internal knowledge and memory, which are challenging to observe directly [6,7]. Routine movement behaviours and the incorporation of memory into models remain understudied.

Researchers have developed ‘MoveFormer’ [8], a deep learning-based model that predicts future movements based on past context, addressing these challenges and offering insights into the importance of different context lengths and information types. The model has been applied to a dataset of over 1,550 trajectories from various species, and the authors have made the MoveFormer source code available for further research.

Inspired by the step-selection framework and efforts to quantify uncertainty in movement predictions, MoveFormer leverages deep learning, specifically the Transformer architecture, to encode trajectories and understand how past movements influence current and future ones – a critical question in movement ecology. The results indicate that integrating information from a few days to two or three weeks before the movement enhances predictions. The model also accounts for environmental predictors and offers insights into the factors influencing animal movements.

Its potential impact extends to conservation, comparative analyses, and the generalisation of uncertainty-handling methods beyond ecology, with open-source code fostering collaboration and innovation in various scientific domains. Indeed, this method could be applied to analyse other kinds of movements, such as arm movements during tool use [9], pen movements, or eye movements during drawing [10], to better understand anticipation in actions and their intentionality.


1.           Méndez, V.; Campos, D.; Bartumeus, F. Stochastic Foundations in Movement Ecology: Anomalous Diffusion, Front Propagation and Random Searches; Springer Series in Synergetics; Springer: Berlin, Heidelberg, 2014; ISBN 978-3-642-39009-8.
2.           Fehlmann, G.; King, A.J. Bio-Logging. Curr. Biol. 2016, 26, R830-R831.
3.           Jacoby, D.M.; Freeman, R. Emerging Network-Based Tools in Movement Ecology. Trends Ecol. Evol. 2016, 31, 301-314.
4.           Michelot, T.; Langrock, R.; Patterson, T.A. moveHMM: An R Package for the Statistical Modelling of Animal Movement Data Using Hidden Markov Models. Methods Ecol. Evol. 2016, 7, 1308-1315.
5.           Wang, G. Machine Learning for Inferring Animal Behavior from Location and Movement Data. Ecol. Inform. 2019, 49, 69-76.
6.           Noser, R.; Byrne, R.W. Change Point Analysis of Travel Routes Reveals Novel Insights into Foraging Strategies and Cognitive Maps of Wild Baboons. Am. J. Primatol. 2014, 76, 399-409.
7.           Fagan, W.F.; Lewis, M.A.; Auger‐Méthé, M.; Avgar, T.; Benhamou, S.; Breed, G.; LaDage, L.; Schlägel, U.E.; Tang, W.; Papastamatiou, Y.P. Spatial Memory and Animal Movement. Ecol. Lett. 2013, 16, 1316-1329.
8.           Cífka, O.; Chamaillé-Jammes, S.; Liutkus, A. MoveFormer: A Transformer-Based Model for Step-Selection Animal Movement Modelling. bioRxiv 2023, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.
9.           Ardoin, T.; Sueur, C. Automatic Identification of Stone-Handling Behaviour in Japanese Macaques Using LabGym Artificial Intelligence. 2023,
10.         Martinet, L.; Pelé, M. Drawing in Nonhuman Primates: What We Know and What Remains to Be Investigated. J. Comp. Psychol. Wash. DC 1983 2021, 135, 176-184, doi:10.1037/com0000251.

MoveFormer: a Transformer-based model for step-selection animal movement modellingOndřej Cífka, Simon Chamaillé-Jammes, Antoine Liutkus<p style="text-align: justify;">The movement of animals is a central component of their behavioural strategies. Statistical tools for movement data analysis, however, have long been limited, and in particular, unable to account for past movement i...Behaviour & Ethology, Habitat selectionCédric Sueur2023-03-22 16:32:14 View
29 Nov 2019
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Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal

Investigate fine scale sex dispersal with spatial and genetic analyses

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Sylvine Durand and 1 anonymous reviewer

The preregistration "Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal" [1] presents the analysis plan that will be used to genetically and spatially investigate sex-biased dispersal in great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus).
Several hypotheses implying mating systems, intrasexual competition or sex-related handicaps have been proposed to explain the diversity of dispersal patterns between or within species according to their ecological requirements, environmental factors such as seasonality [2], or individual characteristics such as age [3] or sex [4].
In birds, females are classically the dispersing sex, while males remain close to the place they were hatched [5], with potential benefits that males derive from knowing the local environment to establish territories [6].
In great-tailed grackles the males hold territories and the females choose which territory to place their nest in [7]. In this context, the main hypothesis is that females are the dispersing sex in this species. The authors of this preregistration plan to investigate this hypothesis and its 3 alternatives ((i) the males are the dispersing sex, (ii) both sexes disperse or (iii) neither of the two sexes disperse), investigating the spatial distribution of genetic relatives.
The authors plan to measure the genetic relatedness (using SNP markers) and geographic distances among all female dyads and among all male dyads in the fine geographic scale (Tempe campus, Arizona). If females disperse away from relatives, the females will be less likely to be found geographically close to genetic relatives.
This pre-registration shows that the authors are well aware of the possible limitations of their study, particularly in relation to their population of 57 individuals, on a small scale. But they will use methods that should be able to detect a signal. They were very good at incorporating the reviewers' comments and suggestions, which enabled them to produce a satisfactory and interesting version of the manuscript presenting their hypotheses, limitations and the methods they plan to use. Another point I would like to stress is that this pre-registration practice is a very good one that makes it possible to anticipate the challenges and the type of analyses to be carried out, in particular by setting out the working hypotheses and confronting them (as well as the methods envisaged) with peers from this stage. I therefore recommend this manuscript and thank all the contributors (authors and reviewers) for their work. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this study.


[1] Sevchik A., Logan C. J., Folsom M., Bergeron L., Blackwell A., Rowney C., and Lukas D. (2019). Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal. In principle recommendation by Peer Community In Ecology.
[2] Fies, M. L., Puckett, K. M., and Larson-Brogdon, B. (2002). Breeding season movements and dispersal of Northern Bobwhites in fragmented habitats of Virginia. Vol. 5 , Article 35. Available at:
[3] Marvá, M., and San Segundo, F. (2018). Age-structure density-dependent fertility and individuals dispersal in a population model. Mathematical biosciences, 300, 157-167. doi: 10.1016/j.mbs.2018.03.029
[4] Trochet, A., Courtois, E. A., Stevens, V. M., Baguette, M., Chaine, A., Schmeller, D. S., Clobert, J., and Wiens, J. J. (2016). Evolution of sex-biased dispersal. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 91(3), 297-320. doi: 10.1086/688097
[5] Greenwood, P. J., and Harvey, P. H. (1982). The natal and breeding dispersal of birds. Annual review of ecology and systematics, 13(1), 1-21. doi: 10.1146/
[6] Greenwood, P. J. (1980). Mating systems, philopatry and dispersal in birds and mammals. Animal behaviour, 28(4), 1140-1162. doi: 10.1016/S0003-3472(80)80103-5
[7] Johnson, K., DuVal, E., Kielt, M., and Hughes, C. (2000). Male mating strategies and the mating system of great-tailed grackles. Behavioral Ecology, 11(2), 132-141. doi: 10.1093/beheco/11.2.132

Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersalAugust Sevchik, Corina Logan, Melissa Folsom, Luisa Bergeron, Aaron Blackwell, Carolyn Rowney, Dieter LukasIn most bird species, females disperse prior to their first breeding attempt, while males remain close to the place they were hatched for their entire lives (Greenwood and Harvey (1982)). Explanations for such female bias in natal dispersal have f...Behaviour & Ethology, Life history, Preregistrations, Social structure, ZoologySophie Beltran-Bech2019-07-24 12:47:07 View