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Social niches and sex assortment: uncovering the developmental ecology of brown-headed cowbirds,Molothrus ater

Authors
Journal
Animal Behaviour
0003-3472
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Volume
82
Issue
5
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.07.035
Keywords
  • Brown-Headed Cowbird
  • Development
  • Mate Choice
  • Molothrus Ater
  • Niche Construction
  • Sex Assortment
  • Sex Segregation
  • Social Ecology
  • Social Niche

Abstract

Variation in individual interaction patterns creates different social niches. Social niches afford differential exposure to social information that individuals utilize to develop species-typical behaviours. Brown-headed cowbirds depend on social interaction to develop competent reproductive behaviour. We used a fission–fusion paradigm to perturb two flocks of birds: one adult flock ( N = 38) and one juvenile flock ( N = 24). We split the two flocks, then recombined them while recording the frequency of individual approaches. Both adult and juvenile females maintained stable social niches, but males did not. Females maintained equivalent levels of gregariousness and attractiveness across perturbations. Juvenile females maintained the highest levels of sex assortment. The consistency of female niche construction may be explained by females’ reliance on interaction with other females to assess males. Early sex assortment may also foster the development of social preferences and influence reproductive choices.

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