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Title: Effects of early-life social experiences on learning and conservation in a threatened songbird
Author: Franks, Victoria Rachael
ISNI:       0000 0004 7961 8478
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Learning new behaviour is a fundamental way for animals to adjust to changes in their surroundings and is especially important for naïve juveniles. Paying attention to socially-provided information may be a way for juveniles to learn rapidly and avoid starvation or predation, so the social environment could be key in helping young animals survive. Little is known, however, about how different social experiences affect learning during early life. My PhD thesis addresses this gap in juvenile hihi (Notiomystis cincta), a threatened New Zealand passerine. To begin, I tested if juvenile hihi learned to forage using cues differently than adult birds and found that juveniles were less efficient learners and had to compensate by foraging for longer. This suggested they may benefit from using socially-provided information to inform behaviour. Next, I characterised the social behaviour of juveniles using a novel combination of re-sighting analysis and social network analysis on three field seasons' worth of observation data. The results demonstrated that young hihi form "gang"-like groups with little interaction with adults; these groups could function as information centres and allow knowledge to be shared amongst many naïve peers. I next conducted an experiment to test if juvenile hihi retain behaviour learned with their parents, or copy their peers when in these juvenile groups. I found that juveniles may pay attention to their parents to begin, but once independent they copy their peers and by doing so can conform to the collective behaviour of groups. Finally, I evaluated whether knowledge of social groups can help conservation management of hihi during reintroductions. We often move groups of juveniles to establish new populations but do not know if maintaining social groups could improve chances of establishment. I used social network analysis to explore whether juveniles maintained group associations once reintroduced. Juveniles moved to a new site formed new social bonds; importantly, individuals that lost more associates were less likely to survive the first few months post-release. This may be because of combined disruption of both social and physical environments during translocation. Together, my findings demonstrate how social experiences in groups have implications for learning and can help young animals overcome the challenges of being naïve during early life, particularly if environments change abruptly following human intervention.
Supervisor: Thorogood, Rose ; Ewen, John G. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: songbird ; juvenile ; conservation ; social information ; social groups