Social learning within and across predator species reduces attacks on novel aposematic prey.

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Hämäläinen, Liisa  ORCID logo
Mappes, Johanna 
Rowland, Hannah M 
Teichmann, Marianne 
Thorogood, Rose 

To make adaptive foraging decisions, predators need to gather information about the profitability of prey. As well as learning from prey encounters, recent studies show that predators can learn about prey defences by observing the negative foraging experiences of conspecifics. However, predator communities are complex. While observing heterospecifics may increase learning opportunities, we know little about how social information use varies across predator species. Social transmission of avoidance among predators also has potential consequences for defended prey. Conspicuous aposematic prey are assumed to be an easy target for naïve predators, but this cost may be reduced if multiple predators learn by observing single predation events. Heterospecific information use by predators might further benefit aposematic prey, but this remains untested. Here we test conspecific and heterospecific information use across a predator community with wild-caught blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and great tits (Parus major). We used video playback to manipulate social information about novel aposematic prey and then compared birds' foraging choices in 'a small-scale novel world' that contained novel palatable and aposematic prey items. We expected that blue tits would be less likely to use social information compared to great tits. However, we found that both blue tits and great tits consumed fewer aposematic prey after observing a negative foraging experience of a demonstrator. In fact, this effect was stronger in blue tits compared to great tits. Interestingly, blue tits also learned more efficiently from watching conspecifics, whereas great tits learned similarly regardless of the demonstrator species. Together, our results indicate that social transmission about novel aposematic prey occurs in multiple predator species and across species boundaries. This supports the idea that social interactions among predators can reduce attacks on aposematic prey and therefore influence selection for prey defences.

aposematism, avoidance learning, conspecific information, heterospecific information, predator-prey interactions, social learning, Animals, Passeriformes, Predatory Behavior, Social Learning
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J Anim Ecol
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Natural Environment Research Council (NE/K00929X/1)
LH was funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation and Emil Aaltonen Foundation. JM was supported by the Academy of Finland (#284666 and #320438). HMR was supported by a research fellowship from the Institute of Zoology, and is currently supported by the Max Plank Society. RT was supported by an Independent Research Fellowship from the Natural Environment Research Council UK (NE/K00929X/1) and a start-up grant from the Helsinki Institute of Life Science (HiLIFE), University of Helsinki.