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Title: The foraging behaviour of sheep in response to environmental uncertainty
Author: Hewitson, Lindsey
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2002
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When foraging alone in a indoor arena, sheep adjusted their patch leaving behaviour according to their expression of patch quality. This was achieved by combining information about the average probability of reward within a patch with recent patch experience. In a supplementary experiment no significant relationship could be found between the patch leaving behaviour leaving behaviour of the sheep in this experiment and measures of personality traits for the individual animals. Under the same conditions, but paired with another sheep of known dominance status a second experiment investigated the effect of increased social complexity on patch leaving behaviour. The behaviour of individuals became less efficient as sheep of different social status diverged in behaviour. Dominant animals followed and challenged subordinate animals for patch access. Subordinate animals relinquished patch information to avoid conflict with dominants. When given a choice between predictable and variable patches offering the same mean reward in the third experiment, sheep selected that predictable patch regardless of recent patch experiences. As the time between successive patch visits increased sheep reverted to a random choice, except where recent experience on the variable patch had been negative, highlighting the persistence in memory of sheep for negative over positive or neutral experience and providing evidence for a win-stay strategy of foraging. In a final pasture experiment combining spatial, temporal and social factors, sheep foraged more efficiently when resource distribution was stable and predictable. Sheep used spatial memory to return to feeding stations within a site as a strategy to avoid competition from other flock members. This study found evidence that sheep behave flexibly and rapidly to changes in their foraging environment. Social constraints and the costs of obtaining and retaining information in a variable environment influenced efficiency in foraging behaviour.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available