Keynan et al (2014)Social foraging strategies and acquisition of novel foraging skills in cooperatively breeding Arabian babblers. Behavioral Ecology doi: 10.1093/beheco/aru181
Social foraging strategies and their association with learning and innovation abilities have been studied extensively in flocking birds, but their importance for cooperatively breeding birds has remained relatively unexplored. The high degree of sociality typical of cooperative societies may indicate an important role of social foraging for learning and innovation. We studied 1) social foraging strategies and 2) the acquisition of a novel foraging skill in 16 groups of wild, cooperatively breeding Arabian babblers (Turdoides squamiceps). In Experiment 1, we provided a foraging grid of 96 feeding wells to each group, allowing them either to search for food individually (producer) or to join other birds (scrounger). Subordinates scrounged significantly more than dominant individuals, spent longer on the foraging grid, and had a higher proportion of their foraging steps rewarded (due to the effect of successful scrounging). However, scrounging was not related to poor learning ability because almost all the individuals that learned the novel foraging skill in Experiment 2 (removing a rubber lid to reach food) were scroungers. These findings suggest that group members differ in their foraging strategies and learning abilities according to their rank and that subordinate group members may be more opportunistic and flexible in their behavior than dominants, making use of both scrounging and novel foraging opportunities.