Detailed project overview
1. Communication and social networks in great tits (Parus major)
This research line focuses on animal communication and social behaviour in songbirds, using great tits (Parus major) as main study organism. We conduct research on animal communication (birdsong), on territorial behaviour, social networks, and animal personality as well as related topics. Our aim is to unravel principles of decision-making in these contexts and to determine social and fitness consequences of behavioural traits and strategies including personality traits. In this context we want to understand why individuals differ in behaviour and how selection acts on such behavioural differences (animal personality research).
The research on personality in great tits is being conducted in close association with Kees van Oers from the Animal Ecology Department at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). The project in part builds on a long-term study on nightingales (see below) and many years of experience in acoustic communication and radio-tracking (review in: Naguib et al. 2011). Some recent examples here are studies on male song, territorial behavior, and social networks (Amy et al 2010, Snijders et al 2014, 2015, Naguib et al 2016) and on effects of noise pollution on parental care (Naguib et al. 2013). Within the framework of a two subsequent ALW open competition NWO grants, we study the role of personality in social networks in great tits (Lysanne Snjders, PhD 2016) and how the spatial behavior links to male singing and territorial behavior (PhD student: Nina Bircher). We are determining spatial behaviour and social encounters in descriptive and experimental contexts using state of the art automated tracking techniques (Encounternet) and link these to communication networks. This allows us to unravel personality-dependent differences in spatial and social behaviour in a social and communication network and to determine fitness correlates. PhD student in project: Nina Bircher. Funding: ALW-NWO.
2. Communication and resilience in an unpredictable world
(Zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata)
In this emerging ecological field research we will study the communication underlying breeding decisions in wild zebra finches who breed under varying and unpredictable conditions. Zebra finches are the best-studied avian model organism in the lab for behavior, mate choice, life history decisions, and the function of male song. Yet, there is very little information about the communication process when making breeding decisions. Based on a recent pilot project at Fowlers Gap Arid Zone research station in Australia, we are currently outlining the next steps.
Cooperating partner: Simon Griffith (Macquarie University, Sydney, AUS)
3. Effects of conditions experienced during early developmental on behavioural traits, life history, and fitness (Zebra finches, Great tits and Poultry)
Here, we use zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) (e,g, Naguib et al 2004; Krause an d Naguib 2014, Honarmand et al 2015), great tits (Parus major) (e.g. Naguib et al. 2011) and also poultry (e.g. Krause et al. 2005) to study the effects of developmental stress during different discrete stages in development on a range of behavioural traits, life history and reproductive success, also across several generations. In poultry we focus on effects of the early environment on development of elementary behavioural characteristics (incl. fearfulness and cognition) and behavioural flexibility, traits which are highly relevant in an applied context and in welfare assessment. This project has important implications in both animal welfare and evolutionary ecology in more general terms, since it allows to trace adult behavioural and life history traits to the conditions experienced during early development. The results thus contribute to our general understanding of non-genetic (epigenetic) effects on phenotypic variation within and across generations.
4. Communication networks in nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos)
The aim of this project is to understand how birds gather information from others’ signals and to determine proximate and ultimate relations between communication, spatial ecology and individual fitness. We here have used nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) at a study at the Petite Camargue Alsacienne in France (main field work period from 2000 to 2012) where we study individual traits, such as song rate or song structure and specifically social traits, such as strategies of using songs during vocal interactions, also taking the environmental acoustics into account to understand the evolution of specific signalling strategies (review in Naguib et al 2011). We also study which song traits predict fitness, measured as mating success.
In these studies we emphasize that such communication systems have evolved in networks and with our research we contribute substantially to understanding cognitive abilities in signalling and information gathering. In order to understand the evolution of communication in a broader ecological context we measure the spatial behaviour of males using radio-tracking techniques and by obtaining measures of phenotypic and genetic quality (reproductive success). This long-term project advances considerably our understanding on the connection between communication, social behaviour, and behavioural ecology in passerine birds. The research on nightingales is conducted in close cooperation with Valentin Amrhein at Basel University, Switzerland and head of the research station at our study site in the Petite Camargue Alsacienne, in France.