Effects of body mass on the foraging behaviour of subordinate Coal Tits Parus ater

Authors

  • ANDRÉS BARBOSA,

    Corresponding author
    1. Dpto. Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain
      *Corresponding author. E-mail: mcnb316@mncn.csic.es
    Search for more papers by this author
  • MARTA BARLUENGA,

    1. Dpto. Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain
    Search for more papers by this author
  • EULALIA MORENO

    1. Estación Experimental de Zonas Aridas, CSIC, General Segura 1, E-04001 Almeria, Spain
    Search for more papers by this author

*Corresponding author. E-mail: mcnb316@mncn.csic.es

Abstract

Several mechanisms can explain individual differences in foraging behaviour, such as variation in predation risk between patches, variation in the ability of individuals to detect or escape from predators, variation between individuals in their requirement for food, the quality and abundance of food in different patches, phenotypic variation giving rise to differences in resource use (exploitation hypothesis) and interference competition such as the exclusion of subordinate individuals by dominants. Subordinates can develop compensation mechanisms. One of these mechanisms is morphological differentiation. However not every change in morphology can account for the same variation in behaviour, since some morphologies can be ecologically more plastic than others (i.e. some morphs can exploit a broader niche than other morphs). Under controlled conditions in the Coal Tit Parus ater, we tested whether (1) differences in resource use were explained by either the exploitation hypothesis or by the interference hypothesis, and (2) the presumed costs of subordination can be reduced through different ecological plasticities associated with different morphologies. Our results support the interference hypothesis as there are no differences in hanging behaviour between dominants and subordinates when foraging solitarily; while in the presence of other individuals, we observed differences in foraging behaviour that varied with social status. Our results also show that body mass influenced foraging behaviour; lighter birds can exploit patches where hanging postures are needed more easily than heavier birds. Moreover, this relationship varied among individuals, as predicted by the ecological plasticity hypothesis. Lighter subordinate individuals used hanging postures more frequently than heavier ones, differentially reducing the costs of subordination. We propose that differences in the breadth of ecological niche due to differences in morphology can reduce the costs of subordination.

Ancillary