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Social foraging and individual consistency in following behaviour: testing the information centre hypothesis in free-ranging vultures


Uncertainties regarding food location and quality are among the greatest challenges faced by foragers and communal roosting may facilitate success through social foraging. The information centre hypothesis (ICH) suggests that uninformed individuals at shared roosts benefit from following informed individuals to previously visited resources. We tested several key prerequisites of the ICH in a social obligate scavenger, the Eurasian griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), by tracking movements and behaviour of sympatric individuals over extended periods and across relatively large spatial scales, thereby precluding alternative explanations such as local enhancement. In agreement with the ICH, we found that 'informed' individuals returning to previously visited carcasses were followed by 'uninformed' vultures that consequently got access to these resources. When a dyad (two individuals that depart from the same roost within 2 min of each other) included an informed individual, they spent a higher proportion of the flight time close to each other at a shorter distance between them than otherwise. Although all individuals occasionally profited from following others, they differed in their tendencies to be informed or uninformed. This study provides evidence for 'following behaviour' in natural conditions and demonstrates differential roles and information states among foragers within a population. Moreover, demonstrating the possible reliance of vultures on following behaviour emphasizes that individuals in declining populations may suffer from reduced foraging efficiency.

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