Reproductive state affects reliance on public information in sticklebacks

M. M. Webster, K. N. Laland


The degree to which animals use public and private sources of information has important implications for research in both evolutionary ecology and cultural evolution. While researchers are increasingly interested in the factors that lead individuals to vary in the manner in which they use different sources of information, to date little is known about how an animal's reproductive state might affect its reliance on social learning. Here, we provide experimental evidence that in foraging ninespine sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius), gravid females increase their reliance on public information generated by feeding demonstrators in choosing the richer of two prey patches than non-reproductive fish, while, in contrast, reproductive males stop using public information. Subsequent experiments revealed reproductive males to be more efficient asocial foragers, less risk-averse and generally less social than both reproductive females and non-reproductives. These findings are suggestive of adaptive switches in reliance on social and asocial sources of information with reproductive condition, and we discuss the differing costs of reproduction and the proximate mechanisms that may underlie these differences in information use. Our findings have important implications for our understanding of adaptive foraging strategies in animals and for understanding the way information diffuses through populations.

  • Received July 22, 2010.
  • Accepted August 18, 2010.
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