Individual differences in foraging decisions: information-gathering strategies or flexibility?

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Information on where to find food patches, their quality, and food variance can have implications for fitness and survival when a current food patch fails. Individuals have been found to vary in their response to changes in food availability, and this has been related to several personality traits in animals such as exploration behavior that measures activity in a novel environment. We examined if personality-related variation in reactions to food availability change could be explained by information-gathering strategies (IGSs), where individuals vary in investing in sampling known patches as a trade-off to seeking new patches. We also examined if these relationships can be explained by an alternative hypothesis where individuals are expected to express variation in behavioral flexibility (BF). The BF hypothesis predicted that individuals rely more on either internal/prior or external/current information. In addition to a standardized exploration behavior test, we designed a new 5-day-long experiment where individual reactions to changes in food availability were measured using wild great tits (Parus major). We found that slow exploring individuals sampled empty food patches more than fast exploring individuals, supporting the IGS hypothesis. We found no evidence for personality-related differences in feeder choice in response to changes in food availability, nor personality-related differences in flexibility in behavioral responses.

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