Behaviour 2019
Does social assortment based on cognitive ability vary with winter severity in mountain chickadees?
Angela M. Pitera1, Carrie L. Branch1,2, Benjamin R. Sonnenberg1, Lauren M. Benedict1, Virginia K. Heinen1, Eli S. Bridge3, Vladimir V. Pravosudov1. 1University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV, United States; 2Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States; 3University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, United States

Phenotypic variation allows for nonrandom distributions of associations based on phenotype and may thus influence social network structure. Cognitive phenotypes may influence the distribution of social associations as cognitive traits are associated with exploratory behavior and foraging success. Individuals with better cognitive abilities may benefit from preferentially associating with others of similar abilities or from being less social as their foraging efficiency may be similar to or greater than group foraging efficiency and sharing information may increase competition.

Spatial and temporal differences in climactic conditions influence risk of starvation, which may also affect the relative costs and benefits of such assortment, resulting in varying strength of assortment between environments or across seasons. We investigated the assortment of wild, food-caching mountain chickadees based on variation in spatial memory ability and the association between social network position and spatial memory. We used data across 5 years from 2 elevation sites vastly differing in winter severity to test whether observed trends are influenced by the distribution and predictability of food.