Experimental dissection of the interaction between social links and foraging behaviour (#124)
Resource distribution is often thought to underpin social structure; consequently individual foraging behaviour can influence social processes, such as the flow of information and disease, and socially-mediated selection. Yet, individual foraging behaviour may itself also be influenced by social factors. The interaction between sociality and foraging, and the feedback between the two, has far-reaching implications for both of these processes, but current understanding is limited. We used automated experimental procedures within a large population of RFID tagged wild birds to experimentally dissect the interplay between social and foraging behaviour. By experimentally manipulating where individual birds could access resources at automated feeding stations, we could separate foraging and social behaviour. Imposing foraging restrictions increased association rates between birds in the same treatment class, and this assortment was carried over into other social contexts, demonstrating how resource access can influence social structure, and how effects at one level can carry-over into other aspects of sociality. However, by considering mated pairs of birds within which conflicts over resource access were created experimentally, we also show that individuals prioritised maintaining strong social relationships over access to resources, thus causing them to forage at non-optimal locations. In turn, this influenced the structure of their social network, showing how a single social relationship between two individuals may govern their wider associations. Finally, we show how ’conflicted’ pairs quickly learnt a flexible scrounging strategy, demonstrating how behavioural plasticity can develop rapidly to mitigate the trade-off between social relationships and other demands. In sum, we demonstrate that whilst resource distribution may shape social networks, strong relationships can be maintained regardless of external factors, and these relationships subsequently feedback onto individuals’ social associations and foraging behaviour.