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Title: Social specialists? : personality variation, foraging strategy and group size in the chestnut-crowned babbler, Pomatostomus ruficeps
Author: Creasey, Matthew John Stanley
ISNI:       0000 0004 7427 301X
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2018
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Although group-living is widespread in animals, the degree of social complexity varies markedly within and among taxa. One important precondition for the evolution of higher forms of social complexity is increasing group size. However, this imposes a challenge: finding sufficient food for growing numbers of individuals. One hypothesis is that the (in)ability to avoid resource competition as group size increases, could partly explain variation in social complexity among vertebrates. Increasingly, evidence suggests that resource competition can be reduced via three forms of individual specialisation. These are foraging niche specialisation, specialisation to a role under division of labour (DoL), and as a mediator of these two, personality variation. Yet few studies have directly investigated the role of these specialisations in mediating the costs of increasing group size in social vertebrates. In this thesis, I first review the evidence to date that specialising to a foraging niche, and/or to a task under DoL, is (1) mediated via personality variation and (2) can be a means of reducing competition, generated by increasing group size, in social species (Chapter 2). Then, using the cooperative breeding chestnut-crowned babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps) as my model system, I empirically test some of the hypotheses posed in this review, regarding foraging niche specialisation and associations with personality variation. In Chapter 3, I show that babblers do show personality variation in traits likely to facilitate niche segregation, and in Chapter 4 that variation among individuals within groups is sufficient to lead to intragroup niche specialisation. However, I find that the level of variation within groups is not associated with group size. Then in Chapter 5, I show that in a direct measure of foraging niche, there is only limited evidence for intragroup specialisation, and again that any specialisation is not associated with larger group sizes. I therefore find no evidence that niche specialisation is a means through which babblers can overcome the costs of increasing group size. I discuss the implications of these results for the rise of social complexity in this system, and social vertebrates generally.
Supervisor: Russell, Andy ; Dall, Sasha Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Personality variation ; cooperative breeding ; social complexity