Thomas Bugnyar

Dept. of Behavioral and Cognitive Biology, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Vienna

1. Consistency and plasticity in wild raven's grouping, foraging and anti-predator decisions

Social life constitutes a very dynamic environment, where individuals need to regularly update information and adjust to others' behaviour. Individual differences in dealing with the social environment may result in fitness consequences and as such may form the basis for the evolution of socio-cognitive skills. Given the key role of inter-individual variation for evolutionary concepts, surprisingly little is known about how consistent, or plastic, individuals are in their social decision making over time and/or across context. In part, such questions are covered by research on animal personalities, defined as consistent inter-individual differences. While this field has made much progress in the last decades, the focus has been largely on non-social personality traits (e.g. boldness/shyness, exploration/avoidance), whereas traits based on social behaviour (e.g. dominance, sociability) have received comparably little attention. Furthermore, few attempts have been made to reconcile ideas of animal personality with the flexibility and plasticity shown in social foraging and social learning (e.g. frequency dependent, model-based strategies).
The aim of this project is to address inter-individual variation in wild ravens' behaviour within and across context. Ravens are an excellent study species in this respect as they show a rich behavioral repertoire, advanced socio-cognitive skills and complex social structure as non-breeders, forming groups with changing group compositions.
The proposed research will take advantage of our unique setting for studying free-ranging, individually marked ravens, and combine behavioral observations with experimental approaches (e.g. acoustical playbacks) and GPS tracking. The candidate shall investigate how consistent/flexible individual ravens behave i) when they form (sub)groups for foraging, roosting and socializing, ii) when they forage at sites of different predation risk, iii) when they scrounge food from conspecifics and heterospecifics and iv) when they receive auditory information about predators.