Aplin, Lucy M.
Internet on animals : Wi-Fi-enabled devices provide a solution for big data transmission in biologging
2023, Wild, Timm A., Wikelski, Martin, Tyndel, Stephen, Alarcon Nieto, Gustavo, Klump, Barbara C., Aplin, Lucy M., Meboldt, Mirko, Williams, Hannah J.
1. Biologging devices are deployed on animals to collect ultra-fine-scale movement data that reveal subsecond patterns in locomotion or long-term patterns in motion and space use. Often these two data types, although complementary, are rarely collected within the same study, given the limiting factors of memory space, power requirements and the need to retrieve stored data from animals. Biologging requires a revolutionary advancement in data networking to overcome these restrictions that constrain big data collection; for the continuous recording and remote download of fine-scale movement and environmental data, from long-term deployments and multiple individuals.
2. Here, we adopt a strategy from the Internet of Things and develop the use of Wi-Fi as a solution for big data biologging. Our ‘WildFi’ tag uses pre-existing, or easy-to-set-up, infrastructure in smartphones and Wi-Fi gateways. We demonstrate the power of memory management and an embedded modular software architecture for functionality, including collective data retrieval at multiple gateways.
3. We find that Wi-Fi, together with smart embedded software, increases the retrieval efficiency of biologging data by orders of magnitude compared to other available systems: with a transmission speed of 230 kByte/s and range of ≤200 m that is 11 times faster than Bluetooth low energy and >3000 times faster than LoRaWAN. Case studies on a domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris), aviary-housed cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus) and free-roaming pangolins (Smutsia temminckii) demonstrate the functionality of the WildFi tag for remote and robust autonomous Wi-Fi data transmission under a range of conditions.
4. Modularity in software and hardware allows for project-specific tailoring beyond reconfiguring sampling parameters of a biologger, which we encourage with open-source sharing of our architecture design. Enhanced communication between animal-attached devices, Wi-Fi infrastructure and smartphones, alongside smart and collaborative data retrieval, eases restrictions for big data collection in animal ecology.
Tits (Paridae sp.) use social information when locating and choosing nest lining material
2023, Vistalli, Sally, Jäger, Tim, Aplin, Lucy M., Wild, Sonja
As an important determinant of reproductive success, avian nest building is under strong selection and requires behavioral plasticity to optimize conditions in which offspring develop. Learning is a one form of plasticity that allows adaptation to the local environment. Birds may refine nest-building behavior with personal experience or use social information to guide their choices. While there is mounting evidence for an effect of experience-based learning on nest building and social information use when selecting nesting material in the laboratory, experimental evidence for social information use in wild birds is lacking. Here, we provided sources of two differently colored wool as nest lining material in a wild mixed-species community of tits (Paridae sp.) to investigate experimentally (i) whether females use social information to locate lining materials and (ii) whether preferences for specific materials (here color) are socially influenced. We investigated pathways of social transmission through a foraging association and a spatial breeding network using the time of arrival at the wool in a network-based diffusion analysis. Our results gave evidence that birds learned about the location of lining resources from foraging associates. Furthermore, we found significant non-random clustering of wool colors in nest boxes across the study area, suggestive of a social influence on selecting lining materials. Taken together, we provide quantitative evidence for a role of social information use in both finding and selecting lining material in wild tits and demonstrate that social information use constitutes an important factor towards behavioral plasticity in nest building in wild birds.
Is bin-opening in cockatoos leading to an innovation arms race with humans?
2022-09-12, Klump, Barbara C., Major, Richard E., Farine, Damien R., Martin, John M., Aplin, Lucy M.
Foraging innovations can give wild animals access to human-derived food sources1. If these innovations spread, they can enable adaptive flexibility2 but also lead to human-wildlife conflicts3. Examples include crop-raiding elephants4 and long-tailed macaques that steal items from people to trade them back for food5. Behavioural responses by humans might act as a further driver on animal innovation2,6, even potentially leading to an inter-species ‘innovation arms-race’7, yet this is almost entirely unexplored. Here, we report a potential case in wild, urban-living, sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita; henceforth cockatoos), where the socially-learnt behaviour of opening and raiding of household bins by cockatoos8 is met with increasingly effective and socially-learnt bin-protection measures by human residents.
Efficiency fosters cumulative culture across species
2022-01-31, Gruber, Thibaud, Chimento, Michael, Aplin, Lucy M., Biro, Dora
Recent studies in several taxa have demonstrated that animal culture can evolve to become more efficient in various contexts ranging from tool use to route learning and migration. Under recent definitions, such increases in efficiency might satisfy the core criteria of cumulative cultural evolution (CCE). However, there is not yet a satisfying consensus on the precise definition of efficiency, CCE or the link between efficiency and more complex, extended forms of CCE considered uniquely human. To bring clarity to this wider discussion of CCE, we develop the concept of efficiency by (i) reviewing recent potential evidence for CCE in animals, and (ii) clarifying a useful definition of efficiency by synthesizing perspectives found within the literature, including animal studies and the wider iterated learning literature. Finally, (iii) we discuss what factors might impinge on the informational bottleneck of social transmission, and argue that this provides pressure for learnable behaviours across species. We conclude that framing CCE in terms of efficiency casts complexity in a new light, as learnable behaviours are a requirement for the evolution of complexity. Understanding how efficiency greases the ratchet of cumulative culture provides a better appreciation of how similar cultural evolution can be between taxonomically diverse species—a case for continuity across the animal kingdom.
The presence of air sac nematodes in passerines and near-passerines in southern Germany
2023, Abdu, Salamatu, Eisenring, Melina, Zúñiga Sepúlveda, Daniel Sebastián, Alarcon Nieto, Gustavo, Schmid, Heidi, Aplin, Lucy M., Brandl, Hanja B., Farine, Damien R.
Major climatic changes in conjunction with animal movement may be associated with the spread of parasites and their vectors into new populations, with potentially important consequences for population persistence. Parasites can evolve to adapt to unsuitable ecological conditions and take up refuge within new host species, with consequences for the population growth of the new host species. One parasite species that has likely been increasing its geographic range, and potentially infecting new hosts, is the recently described air sac nematode Serratospiculoides amaculata, in great tits (Parus major) in Slovakia. In this study, we screened wild birds for potential air sac nematode infection in a woodland area of southern Germany. We identified four additional host species: Eurasian nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker, greenfinch and robin. As infection by this group of nematodes can be highly pathogenic, we recommend further investigation into its potential risk to these populations.
Group-level differences in social network structure remain repeatable after accounting for environmental drivers
2023, Ogino, Mina, Maldonado Chaparro, Adriana A., Aplin, Lucy M., Farine, Damien R.
Individuals show consistent between-individual behavioural variation when they interact with conspecifics or heterospecifics. Such patterns might underlie emergent group-specific behavioural patterns and between-group behavioural differences. However, little is known about (i) how social and non-social drivers (external drivers) shape group-level social structures and (ii) whether animal groups show consistent between-group differences in social structure after accounting for external drivers. We used automated tracking to quantify daily social interactions and association networks in 12 colonies of zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). We quantified the effects of five external drivers (group size, group composition, ecological factors, physical environments and methodological differences) on daily interaction and association networks and tested whether colonies expressed consistent differences in day-to-day network structure after controlling for these drivers. Overall, we found that external drivers contribute significantly to network structure. However, even after accounting for the contribution of external drivers, there remained significant support for consistent between-group differences in both interaction (repeatability R: up to 0.493) and association (repeatability R: up to 0.736) network structures. Our study demonstrates how group-level differences in social behaviour can be partitioned into different drivers of variation, with consistent contributions from both social and non-social factors.
The performance of field sampling for parasite detection in a wild passerine
2022-08, Abdu, Salamatu, Chimento, Michael, Alarcon Nieto, Gustavo, Zúñiga Sepúlveda, Daniel Sebastián, Aplin, Lucy M., Farine, Damien R., Brandl, Hanja B.
Parasites can impact the behavior of animals and alter the interplay with ecological factors in their environment. Studying the effects that parasites have on animals thus requires accurate estimates of infections in individuals. However, quantifying parasites can be challenging due to several factors. Laboratory techniques, physiological fluctuations, methodological constraints, and environmental influences can introduce measurement errors, in particular when screening individuals in the wild. These issues are pervasive in ecological studies where it is common to sample study subjects only once. Such factors should be carefully considered when choosing a sampling strategy, yet presently there is little guidance covering the major sources of error. In this study, we estimate the reliability and sensitivity of different sampling practices at detecting two internal parasites—Serratospiculoides amaculata and Isospora sp.—in a model organism, the great tit Parus major. We combine field and captive sampling to assess whether individual parasite infection status and load can be estimated from single field samples, using different laboratory techniques—McMaster and mini-FLOTAC. We test whether they vary in their performance, and quantify how sample processing affects parasite detection rates. We found that single field samples had elevated rates of false negatives. By contrast, samples collected from captivity over 24 h were highly reliable (few false negatives) and accurate (repeatable in the intensity of infection). In terms of methods, we found that the McMaster technique provided more repeatable estimates than the mini-FLOTAC for S. amaculata eggs, and both techniques were largely equally suitable for Isospora oocysts. Our study shows that field samples are likely to be unreliable in accurately detecting the presence of parasites and, in particular, for estimating parasite loads in songbirds. We highlight important considerations for those designing host–parasite studies in captive or wild systems giving guidance that can help select suitable methods, minimize biases, and acknowledge possible limitations.
Social network analysis reveals context-dependent kin relationships in wild sulphur-crested cockatoos Cacatua galerita
2023, Penndorf, Julia, Ewart, Kyle M., Klump, Barbara Christina, Martin, John M., Aplin, Lucy M.
A preference to associate with kin facilitates inclusive fitness benefits, and increased tolerance or cooperation between kin may be an added benefit of group living. Many species exhibit preferred associations with kin; however, it is often hard to disentangle active preferences from passive overlap, for example caused by limited dispersal or inheritance of social position. Many parrots exhibit social systems consisting of pair-bonded individuals foraging in variably sized fission-fusion flocks within larger communal roosts of hundreds of individuals. Previous work has shown that, despite these fission-fusion dynamics, individuals can exhibit long-term preferred foraging associations outside their pair bonds. Yet the underlying drivers of these social preferences remain largely unknown. In this study, we use a network approach to examine the influence of kinship on social associations and interactions in wild, communally roosting sulphur-crested cockatoos, Cacatua galerita. We recorded roost co-membership, social associations and interactions in 561 individually marked birds across three neighbouring roosts. We then collected genetic samples from 205 cockatoos, and conducted a relationship analysis to construct a kinship network. Finally, we tested correlations between kinship and four social networks: association, affiliative, low-intensity aggression and high-intensity aggression. Our result showed that while roosting groups were clearly defined, they showed little genetic differentiation or kin structuring. Between roost movement was high, with juveniles, especially females, repeatedly moving between roosts. Both within roosting communities, and when visiting different roosts, individuals preferentially associated with kin. Supporting this, individuals were also more likely to allopreen kin. However, contrary to expectation, individuals preferred to direct aggression towards kin, with this effect only observed when individuals shared roost membership. By measuring social networks within and between large roosting groups, we could remove potential effects of passive spatial overlap on kin structuring. Our study reveals that sulphur-crested cockatoos actively prefer to associate with kin, both within and between roosting groups. By examining this across different interaction types, we further demonstrate that sulphur-crested cockatoos exhibit behavioural and context-dependent interaction rules towards kin. Our results help reveal the drivers of social association in this species, while adding to the evidence for social complexity in parrots.
Manipulating actions : A selective two-option device for cognitive experiments in wild animals
2023, Wild, Sonja, Alarcon Nieto, Gustavo, Chimento, Michael, Aplin, Lucy M.
1. Advances in biologging technologies have significantly improved our ability to track individual animals' behaviour in their natural environment. Beyond observations, automation of data collection has revolutionized cognitive experiments in the wild. For example, radio-frequency identification (RFID) antennae embedded in ‘puzzle box’ devices have allowed for large-scale cognitive experiments where individuals tagged with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags interact with puzzle boxes to gain a food reward, with devices logging both the identity and solving action of visitors.
2. Here, we extended the scope of wild cognitive experiments by developing a fully automated selective two-option foraging device to specifically control which actions lead to a food reward and which remain unrewarded. Selective devices were based on a sliding-door foraging puzzle, and built using commercially available low-cost electronics.
3. We tested it on two free-ranging PIT-tagged subpopulations of great tits Parus major as a proof of concept. We conducted a diffusion experiment where birds learned from trained demonstrators to get a food reward by sliding the door either to the left or right. We then restricted access of knowledgeable birds to their less preferred side and calculated the latency until birds produced solutions as a measure of behavioural flexibility.
4. A total of 22 of 23 knowledgeable birds produced at least one solution on their less preferred side after being restricted, with higher-frequency solvers being faster at doing so. In addition, 18 of the 23 birds reached their solving rate from prior to the restriction on their less preferred side, with birds with stronger prior side preference taking longer to do so.
5. We therefore introduce and successfully test a new selective two-option puzzle box, providing detailed instructions and freely available software that allows reproducibility. It extends the functionality of existing systems by allowing fine-scale manipulations of individuals' actions and opens a large range of possibilities to study cognitive processes in wild animal populations.
Machine learning reveals cryptic dialects that explain mate choice in a songbird
2022-03-28, Wang, Daiping, Forstmeier, Wolfgang, Farine, Damien R., Maldonado Chaparro, Adriana A., Martin, Katrin, Pei, Yifan, Alarcon Nieto, Gustavo, Klarevas-Irby, James A., Ma, Shouwen, Aplin, Lucy M., Kempenaers, Bart
Culturally transmitted communication signals – such as human language or bird song – can change over time through cultural drift, and the resulting dialects may consequently enhance the separation of populations. However, the emergence of song dialects has been considered unlikely when songs are highly individual-specific, as in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). Here we show that machine learning can nevertheless distinguish the songs from multiple captive zebra finch populations with remarkable precision, and that ‘cryptic song dialects’ predict strong assortative mating in this species. We examine mating patterns across three consecutive generations using captive populations that have evolved in isolation for about 100 generations. We cross-fostered eggs within and between these populations and used an automated barcode tracking system to quantify social interactions. We find that females preferentially pair with males whose song resembles that of the females’ adolescent peers. Our study shows evidence that in zebra finches, a model species for song learning, individuals are sensitive to differences in song that have hitherto remained unnoticed by researchers.