This week, we welcome Theresa Jones.
Sociality across multiple foraging contexts in a colonial seabird
Abstract: Animals in groups experience both costs and benefits from social associations. Colonial species such as seabirds, live in a particularly complex social environment presenting significant opportunity for intraspecific social interactions. Access to social information, particularly in terms of social foraging, has frequently been proposed as an important factor driving coloniality. However, due to the vast size of many seabird colonies and long distances covered during foraging, it has previously been difficult to examine the scale of such foraging aggregations and the individual factors that drive social behaviours. By simultaneously tracking 85% of the breeding population of a colony of Australasian gannets (Morus serrator) I quantify the importance of sociality across multiple contexts associated with foraging. I demonstrate that individuals associate at the colony at a frequency greater than expected by chance, and that this coordination at the colony provides foraging information as co-departing individuals share more similar initial foraging locations. Using multi-layer social network analysis, I further demonstrate that individuals vary consistently in their sociality across foraging states (colony departure, commuting, foraging and colony return), but show individual flexibility in their social associations. This study also highlights the context-dependent nature of social foraging decisions, as the use of social foraging behaviour differed with habitat choice. Lastly, I examine social foraging decisions during commuting (following) and foraging (patch joining) in the context of a producer-scrounger foraging game. I provide evidence that use of exploitative foraging strategies varies with time and space during foraging, which are expected to relate to foraging motivation and scrounging opportunity.