- LEHNA, University of Lyon, Lyon, France
- Behaviour & Ethology, Competition, Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Evolutionary ecology, Foraging, Preregistrations, Statistical ecology
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 speciesRecommended by Francois-Xavier Dechaume-Moncharmont 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 . Biologging is not limited to movement ecology. For instance, fine grain information about energy expenditure can be inferred from body acceleration , 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.  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  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.
 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
 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
 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
 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
 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
 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
Evidence of tool use in a seabird?
Touchy matter: the delicate balance between Morgan’s canon and open-minded description of advanced cognitive skills in the animalRecommended by Francois-Xavier Dechaume-Moncharmont based on reviews by Valérie Dufour and Alex Taylor
In a recent paper published in PNAS, Fayet et al.  reported scarce field observations of two Atlantic puffins (four years apart) apparently scratching their bodies using sticks, which was interpreted by the authors as evidence of tool use in this species. In a short response, Benjamin Farrar  raises serious concerns about this interpretation and proposes simpler, more parsimonious, mechanisms explaining the observed behaviour: a textbook case of Morgan's canon.
In virtually all introductory lectures on animal behaviour, students are advised to exercise caution when interpreting empirical data and weighting alternative explanations. We are sometimes prisoner of our assumptions: our desire of beliefs in advanced cognitive skills in non-human species make us more receptive to facts confirming our preconceptions than to simpler, less exciting, interpretations (a phenomenon known as "confirmation bias" in psychology). We must resist the temptation to accept appealing explanations without enough critical thinking. Our students are thus taught to apply the Lloyd Morgan's canon, a variant of one of the most important heuristics in Science, the principle of parsimony or Occam's razor, rephrased by Morgan [3, page 53] in the context of animal behaviour: "In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one that stands lower in the psychological scale". In absence of evidence to the contrary, one should postulate the simplest cognitive skill consistent with the observed behaviour. While sometimes criticized from an epistemological point of view [4-6], it remains an essential and largely accepted framework of animal cognition. It has repeatedly proved to be a useful guide in the minefield of comparative psychology. Classical ethology questions related to the existence of, for instance, meta-cognition , intentionality or problem solving  have been convincingly investigated using this principle.
Yet, there is a downside to this conservative approach. Blind reference to Morgan's canon may narrow our theoretical thinking about animal cognition [7,9]. It could be counter-productive to systematically deny advanced cognitive skills in animals. On the contrary, keeping our mind open to unplanned observations, unexpected discoveries, or serendipity , and being prepared to accept new hypotheses, sometimes fairly remote from the dominant paradigm, may be a fruitful research strategy. To quote Darwin's famous letter to Alfred Wallace: "I am a firm believer, that without speculation there is no good and original observation" . Brief notes in specialized scientific journals, or even in grey literature (by enthusiast amateur ornithologists, ichthyologists, or entomologists), constitutes a rich array of anecdotal observations. For instance, Sol et al.  convincingly compared the innovation propensity across bird species by screening ornithology literature using keywords like 'never reported', 'not seen before', 'first report', 'unusual' or 'novel'. Even if "the plural of anecdote is not data" as the saying goes, such descriptions of novel behaviours, even single-subject observations, are indisputably precious: taxonomic ubiquity of a behaviour is a powerful argument in favour of evolutionary convergence. Of course, a race to the bottom, amplified by the inevitable media hypes around scientific articles questioning human exceptionalism, is another possible scientific trap for behavioural biologists in search of skills characteristic of so-called advanced species, but never described so far in supposedly cognitively simpler organisms. As stated by Franz de Waal : "I have nothing against anecdotes, especially if they have been caught on camera or come from reputable observers who know their animals; but I do view them as a starting point of research, never an end point".
In the case of the two video observations of puffins apparently using sticks as scratching tool, it must be considered as a mere anecdote unless scientists systematically investigate this behaviour. In his constructive criticism of Fayet et al.'s paper, Benjamin Farrar  proposes interesting directions of research and testable predictions. A correlation between the background rate of stick picking and the rate of stick preening would indicate that this behaviour was more likely explained by fluke than genuine innovation in this species.
 Fayet, A. L., Hansen, E. S., and Biro, D. (2020). Evidence of tool use in a seabird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(3), 1277–1279. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1918060117
 Farrar, B. G. (2020). Evidence of tool use in a seabird? PsyArXiv, 463hk, ver. 5 recommended and peer-reviewed by Peer Community In Ecology. doi: 10.31234/osf.io/463hk
 Morgan, C. L. (1894). An introduction to comparative psychology. London, UK: Walter Scott, Ltd. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/introductiontoco00morg/page/53/mode/2up
 Meketa, I. (2014). A critique of the principle of cognitive simplicity in comparative cognition. Biology and Philosophy, 29(5), 731–745. doi: 10.1007/s10539-014-9429-z
 Fitzpatrick, S. (2017). Against Morgan's Canon. In K. Andrews and J. Beck (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of philosophy of animal minds (pp. 437–447). London, UK: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group. doi: 10.4324/9781315742250.ch42
 Starzak, T. (2017). Interpretations without justification: a general argument against Morgan's Canon. Synthese, 194(5), 1681–1701. doi: 10.1007/s11229-016-1013-4
 Arbilly, M., and Lotem, A. (2017). Constructive anthropomorphism: a functional evolutionary approach to the study of human-like cognitive mechanisms in animals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1865), 20171616. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1616
 Taylor, A. H., Knaebe, B., and Gray, R. D. (2012). An end to insight? New Caledonian crows can spontaneously solve problems without planning their actions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1749), 4977–4981. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1998
 de Waal, F. (2016). Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? New-York, USA: W. W. Norton and Company.
 Scheffer, M. (2014). The forgotten half of scientific thinking. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(17), 6119–6119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1404649111
 Darwin, C. R. (1857). Letter to A. R. Wallace, 22 December 1857. Retrieved 30 January 2020, from https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-2192.xml
 Sol, D., Lefebvre, L., and Rodríguez-Teijeiro, J. D. (2005). Brain size, innovative propensity and migratory behaviour in temperate Palaearctic birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 272(1571), 1433–1441. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3099
How optimal foragers should respond to habitat changes? On the consequences of habitat conversion.
Optimal foraging in a changing world: old questions, new perspectivesRecommended by Francois-Xavier Dechaume-Moncharmont based on reviews by Frederick Adler, Andrew Higginson and 1 anonymous reviewer
Marginal value theorem (MVT) is an archetypal model discussed in every behavioural ecology textbook. Its popularity is largely explained but the fact that it is possible to solve it graphically (at least in its simplest form) with the minimal amount of equations, which is a sensible strategy for an introductory course in behavioural ecology . Apart from this heuristic value, one may be tempted to disregard it as a naive toy model. After a burst of interest in the 70's and the 80's, the once vivid literature about optimal foraging theory (OFT) has lost its momentum . Yet, OFT and MVT have remained an active field of research in the parasitoidologists community, mostly because the sampling strategy of a parasitoid in patches of hosts and its resulting fitness gain are straightforward to evaluate, which eases both experimental and theoretical investigations .
This preprint  is in line with the long-established literature on OFT. It follows two theoretical articles [5,6] in which Vincent Calcagno and co-authors assessed the effect of changes in the environmental conditions on optimal foraging strategy. This time, they did not modify the shape of the gain function (describing the diminishing return of the cumulative intake as a function of the residency time in a patch) but the relative frequencies of good and bad patches. At first sight, that sounds like a minor modification of their earlier models. Actually, even the authors initially were fooled by the similarities before spotting the pitfalls. Here, they genuinely point out the erroneous verbal prediction in their previous paper in which some non-trivial effects of the change in patch frequencies have been overlooked. The present study indeed provides a striking example of ecological fallacy, and more specifically of Simpson's paradox which occurs when the aggregation of subgroups modifies the apparent pattern at the scale of the entire population [7,8]. In the case of MVT under constraints of habitat conversion, the increase of the residency times in both bad and good patches can result in a decrease of the average residency time at the level of the population. This apparently counter-intuitive property can be observed, for instance, when the proportion of bad quality patches strongly increases, which increases the probability that the individual forages on theses quickly exploited patches, and thus decreases its average residency time on the long run.
The authors thus put the model on the drawing board again. Proper assessment of the effect of change in the frequency of patch quality is more mathematically challenging than when one considers only changes in the shape of the gain function. The expected gain must be evaluated at the scale of the entire habitat instead of single patch. Overall, this study, which is based on a rigorous formalism, stands out as a warning against too rapid interpretations of theoretical outputs. It is not straightforward to generalize the predictions of previous models without careful evaluating their underlying hypotheses. The devil is in the details: some slight, seemingly minor, adjustments of the assumptions may have some major consequences.
The authors discussed the general conditions leading to changes in residency times or movement rates. Yet, it is worth pointing out again that it would be a mistake to blindly consider these theoretical results as forecasts for the foragers' behaviour in natura. OFT models has for a long time been criticized for sweeping under the carpet the key questions of the evolutionary dynamics and the maintenance of the optimal strategy in a population [9,10]. The distribution of available options is susceptible to change rapidly due to modifications of the environmental conditions or, even more simply, the presence of competitors which continuously remove the best options from the pool of available options . The key point here is that the constant monitoring of available options implies cognitive (neural tissue is one of the most metabolically expensive tissues) and ecological costs: assessment and adjustment to the environmental conditions requires time, energy, and occasional mistakes (cost of naiveté, ). While rarely considered in optimal analyses, these costs should severely constraint the evolution of the subtle decision rules. Under rapidly fluctuating conditions, it could be more profitable to maintain a sub-optimal strategy (but performing reasonably well on the long run) than paying the far from negligible costs implied by the pursuit of optimal strategies [13,14]. For instance, in the analysis presented in this preprint, it is striking how close the fitness gains of the plastic and the non-plastic forager are, particularly if one remembers that the last-mentioned cognitive and ecological costs have been neglected in these calculations.
Yet, even if one can arguably question its descriptive value, such models are worth more than a cursory glance. They still have normative value insofar that they provide upper bounds for the response to modifications of the environmental conditions. Such insights are precious to design future experiments on the question. Being able to compare experimentally measured behaviours with the extremes of the null model (stubborn non-plastic forager) and the optimal strategy (only achievable by an omniscient daemon) informs about the cognitive bias or ecological costs experienced by real life foragers. I thus consider that this model, and more generally most OFT models, are still a valuable framework which deserves further examination.
 Fawcett, T. W. & Higginson, A. D. 2012 Heavy use of equations impedes communication among biologists. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 109, 11735–11739. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1205259109
 Owens, I. P. F. 2006 Where is behavioural ecology going? Trends Ecol. Evol. 21, 356–361. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2006.03.014
 Louâpre, P., Fauvergue, X., van Baaren, J. & Martel, V. 2015 The male mate search: an optimal foraging issue? Curr. Opin. Insect Sci. 9, 91–95. doi: 10.1016/j.cois.2015.02.012
 Calcagno, V., Hamelin, F., Mailleret, L., & Grognard, F. (2018). How optimal foragers should respond to habitat changes? On the consequences of habitat conversion. bioRxiv, 273557, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecol. doi: 10.1101/273557
 Calcagno, V., Grognard, F., Hamelin, F. M., Wajnberg, É. & Mailleret, L. 2014 The functional response predicts the effect of resource distribution on the optimal movement rate of consumers. Ecol. Lett. 17, 1570–1579. doi: 10.1111/ele.12379
 Calcagno, V., Mailleret, L., Wajnberg, É. & Grognard, F. 2013 How optimal foragers should respond to habitat changes: a reanalysis of the Marginal Value Theorem. J. Math. Biol. 69, 1237–1265. doi: 10.1007/s00285-013-0734-y
 Galipaud, M., Bollache, L., Wattier, R., Dechaume-Moncharmont, F.-X. & Lagrue, C. 2015 Overestimation of the strength of size-assortative pairing in taxa with cryptic diversity: a case of Simpson's paradox. Anim. Behav. 102, 217–221. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.01.032
 Kievit, R. A., Frankenhuis, W. E., Waldorp, L. J. & Borsboom, D. 2013 Simpson's paradox in psychological science: a practical guide. Front. Psychol. 4, 513. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00513
 Bolduc, J.-S. & Cézilly, F. 2012 Optimality modelling in the real world. Biol. Philos. 27, 851–869. doi: 10.1007/s10539-012-9333-3
 Pierce, G. J. & Ollason, J. G. 1987 Eight reasons why optimal foraging theory is a complete waste of time. Oikos 49, 111–118. doi: 10.2307/3565560
 Dechaume-Moncharmont, F.-X., Brom, T. & Cézilly, F. 2016 Opportunity costs resulting from scramble competition within the choosy sex severely impair mate choosiness. Anim. Behav. 114, 249–260. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2016.02.019
 Snell-Rood, E. C. 2013 An overview of the evolutionary causes and consequences of behavioural plasticity. Anim. Behav. 85, 1004–1011. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2012.12.031
 Fawcett, T. W., Fallenstein, B., Higginson, A. D., Houston, A. I., Mallpress, D. E. W., Trimmer, P. C. & McNamara, J. M. 2014 The evolution of decision rules in complex environments. Trends Cogn. Sci. 18, 153–161. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2013.12.012
 Marshall, J. A. R., Trimmer, P. C., Houston, A. I. & McNamara, J. M. 2013 On evolutionary explanations of cognitive biases. Trends Ecol. Evol. 28, 469-473. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2013.05.013