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The importance of indirect cues for white-browed sparrow-weaver (Plocepasser mahali) risk assessment

  • Author(s): Fong, Tracy E.
  • DeLong, Travis W.
  • Hogan, Sarah B.
  • Blumstein, Daniel T.
  • et al.

Both direct cues that provide information about the actual presence of a predator and indirect environmental cues that provide information about the probability of encountering a predator may be used by animals assessing predation risk, but relatively few studies manipulate both simultaneously to study their relative importance. We conducted two experiments to study the foraging decisions of white-browed sparrow-weavers (Plocepasser mahali). The first experiment manipulated both direct and indirect cues in a feeding array by simultaneously placing feeding stations at different distances from humans (to manipulate direct risk) and from protective cover (to manipulate indirect risk). Weaver foraging was influenced more by indirect risk than by direct risk. The second experiment aimed to determine if weaver’s indirect risk assessment was sensitive to variation in benefits. We set two feeding stations at different distances from cover but the same distance from the human observers and systematically increased the amount of food at the station farther from cover. Weavers far from cover initially foraged at higher rates than those close to cover, but the addition of food reduced the foraging rate. Together, our results illustrate that weaver foraging decisions are sensitive to variation in risk and that indirect cues are relatively more important than direct cues.

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