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Investigating the use of learning mechanisms in a species that is rapidly expanding its geographic range
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Kelsey McCune, Richard McElreath, Corina Logan
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This 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 learning from previous experience (Mikhalevich, Powell, and Logan (2017)), is thought to play an important role in a species’ ability to successfully adapt to new environments and expand its geographic range (e.g., (Lefebvre et al. 1997), (Griffin and Guez 2014), (Chow, Lea, and Leaver 2016), (Sol and Lefebvre 2000), (Sol, Timmermans, and Lefebvre 2002), (Sol et al. 2005)). However, behavioral flexibility is rarely directly tested at the individual level, thus limiting our ability to determine how it relates to other traits, which limits the power of predictions about a species’ ability to adapt behavior to new environments. We use great-tailed grackles (a bird species) as a model to investigate this question because they have rapidly expanded their range into North America over the past 140 years ((Wehtje 2003), (Peer 2011)) (see an overview of the 5-year project timeline). This investigation: The ability to learn individually, or from others, could allow grackles to flexibly change their behavior in response to changing environmental conditions. In this piece of the long-term project, we aim to determine what learning mechanisms grackles use (i.e., stimulus or local enhancement, imitation/emulation, personal information) when learning to solve novel foraging problems. We will use two puzzle box apparatuses that contain food accessible via diverse opening methods. Wild grackles will first be habituated to eating from or off of the non-functional apparatus so that differences in neophobia will not confound performance. We will test grackles from a population in the middle of the expanded geographic range to determine whether this species uses social learning. If so, we will then compare performance across three populations (core, middle of the expansion, and at the northern range edge). Results will indicate how social learning might play a role in the geographic range expansion by elucidating how this species solves novel foraging problems in the wild.
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birds, great-tailed grackles, social learning, range expansion
Behaviour & Ethology, Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Foraging, Preregistrations, Social structure, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, Zoology
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