Hoo are you? Tits do not respond to novel predators as threats
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To combat the threat of predation, prey species have developed a variety of ways to recognize and respond appropriately to novel predators. While there is evidence that predator recognition does not require learning in certain species, learning appears to play an important role for other species. In systems where learning is important, it is less clear whether predator identification requires prior experience with specific predators or, whether general experience with predators provides sufficient tools for identifying similar species of novel predators. Here we test whether wild-living adult birds recognize a dangerous predator that occurs in only part of their geographical range. We presented taxidermy mounts of little owls, Athene noctua, and sparrowhawks, Accipiter nisus, to blue tits, Cyanistes caeruleus, and great tits, Parus major. All populations of both tit species co-occur with sparrowhawks, but populations differ in their prior experience with little owls. We found that tits that overlap geographically with little owls responded to little owls using the same intensity of mobbing behaviour exhibited toward sparrowhawks. In populations with no historical contact with little owls, however, both blue and great tits treated little owls as a lower threat than sparrowhawks. These results suggest that blue tits and great tits do not generalize ‘predatory features’ to novel predators and instead need prior experience with specific predators before they assign the correct level of threat.
Carlson , N V , Healy , S D & Templeton , C N 2017 , ' Hoo are you? Tits do not respond to novel predators as threats ' Animal Behaviour , vol 128 , pp. 79-84 . DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2017.04.006
© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
The Natural Environment Research Council (NE/J018694/1), the Royal Society (RG2012R2), the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust (2014199) and the University of St Andrews (University of St Andrews 600th Year Scholarship and the St Leonard’s Fee Scholarship) provided funding.
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