The effects of food limitation on behavior, corticosterone, and the use of social information in the red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)


Meeting metabolic demands through foraging is a basic animal need that drives the evolution of foraging adaptations. The use of social information is one adaptation that could improve foraging success and fitness if it helps animals locate food when conditions are challenging. It is unknown if food limitation—or the glucocorticoid hormones that are often released when food is limited—can influence the extent to which animals use social information or their ability to learn novel foraging techniques. We explored the effects of limited access to food on activity levels, corticosterone secretion, and social information use in red crossbills, a highly social songbird species adapted to cope with high degrees of resource unpredictability. Using an observer/demonstrator paradigm, food limited or well fed observers were allowed to watch demonstrators solve a novel feeding puzzle before being allowed to attempt the puzzle themselves across repeated trials. Our findings suggest that food limitation transiently increased activity levels but did not result in long-term elevations of corticosterone and did not increase the speed at which red crossbills utilized social information to solve the novel foraging task. However, food limitation may have increased the value of using socially acquired information, as foraging technique performance improved faster in food limited birds relative to controls. Social learning was further demonstrated by the red crossbills in this study when naïve observers overwhelmingly learned a socially-demonstrated task over an undemonstrated task when tested on a two-task foraging board.