Learning to Choose Among Social Foraging Strategies in Adult House Sparrows (Passer domesticus)
Social foragers may be regarded as being engaged in a producer–scrounger game in which they can search for food independently or join others who have discovered food. Research on the producer–scrounger game has focused mainly on the different factors influencing its evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) solution, but very little is known about the actual mechanisms that shape players' decisions. Recent work has shown that early experience can affect producer–scrounger foraging tendencies in young house sparrows and that in nutmeg mannikins learning is involved in reaching the ESS. Here, we show that direct manipulation of the success rate experienced by adult sparrows when following others can change their strategy choice on the following day. We presented to live sparrows an experimental regime, where stuffed adult house sparrows in a feeding position were positioned on a foraging grid that included two reward regimes: a positive one, in which the stuffed models were placed near food, and a negative one, in which the models were placed away from food. There was a significant increase in joining behavior after the positive treatment (exhibited by 84% of the birds), but no change after the negative treatment. Further analysis demonstrated that sparrows more frequently used the strategy with which they were more successful (usually joining) and that differences in strategy use were correlated with differences in success. These results suggest that adult birds can monitor their success and learn to choose among social foraging strategies in the producer–scrounger game.