Does success matter? Nest failure does not affect copying in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), contrary to the copy-when-dissatisfied strategy

  • Author / Creator
    Eckersley, Tristan, S.
  • Social learning theorists have developed social learning strategies to predict when an individual is most likely to copy the behaviour of another individual, based on the benefits and costs social learning might convey. Much of the research investigating social learning strategies has come from experiments examining foraging decisions. One domain where there is little research investigating the role that social learning may play is that of physical cognition, which is the ability of an animal to gather and acquire information regarding either space, time or quantity of some aspect of the physical world (Shettleworth, 2009). One behaviour within the physical cognition domain that has seen a recent increase in research attention is animal construction behaviours, which includes nest-building behaviours in birds. Previous research into learning in nest-building behaviours has found that birds with no nest-building experience will use social information when choosing material to build their nest (Guillette, Scott, & Healy, 2016). Specifically, first-time nest-building zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) copy the nest-building material choice of familiar conspecifics. One thing that is unknown regarding social learning in nest building is whether having previous nest-building experience will affect social learning in a subsequent nest-building attempt. The copy-when-dissatisfied social learning strategy predicts that an Observer will copy a Demonstrator's behaviour if the Observer perceives the outcome of their own behaviour to be sub-optimal (Laland, 2004). Thus, I conducted an experiment asking: a) will experienced nest-building birds copy the material choice of familiar conspecifics in a second nest-building attempt, and b) will success in the previous nest (producing chicks or failing to produce chicks) differentially affect social learning. To test this, I had male-female zebra finch pairs build an initial nest that was either Successful (produced and fledged chicks) or Unsuccessful (eggs experientially removed during incubation). After completing the initial nest-building experience, I tested both the Successful and Unsuccessful pairs for their preference for two novel nest-building materials. Both the Successful and Unsuccessful pairs (the Observers) observed a pair of conspecifics (the Demonstrators) building a nest using the Observers non-preferred material. After having the opportunity to observe the Demonstrators, the Observers were again tested for their preference for the two novel nest-building materials they had been presented before the observation opportunity. Neither the Successful nor the Unsuccessful group copied the material used by the conspecifics. These results do not support the copy-when-dissatisfied strategy but may provide indirect support for an alternative social learning strategy, the copy-when-uncertain strategy.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.