Research

LEARNING OF FEAR AND EAVESDROPPING NETWORKS IN WILD BIRDS


Animals live in complex and dynamic landscapes of fear, where predation is a key selective pressure. In such environments, acquiring information about predation risk provides selective advantage, as it allows adjusting the behavior according to the perceived risk in ecological time i.e., within the lifetime of an individual. Curently, it is becoming increasingly apparent that animal communities may form information networks, in which information (including that of predation risk) is culturally-transmitted among con- and heterospecifics. In this project, I explore mechanisms underlying functioning of such networks. In particular, I study how wild birds learn to recognize their enemies through personal experience, as well as intra- and interspecific social learning i.e., by observing the behavior of others. Moreover, I investigate how fear spreads among con- and heterospecifics forming eavesdropping networks, in which individuals gain information about predation risk by eavesdropping on alarm calls of others. I use wood warblers (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) and other forest songbirds as a study system.

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The wood warbler. © Jakub Szymkowiak

 

INFORMED HABITAT SELECTION DECISIONS IN SONGBIRDS


Birds live in environments that are heterogeneous at various spatial and temporal scales regarding abiotic, biotic, and social characteristics. The key feature of adaptive settlement behaviour in a heterogeneous environment is gathering and using information about ambient conditions, as it allows individuals to asses a range of available options and choose one with expected highest fitness outcome. In this project, I study mechanisms and ecological implications of social and non-social information use in habitat selection decisions in songbirds i.e., how social (con- and heterospecifics) and non-social (predators, habitat characteristics) cues affect settlement decisions of individuals, and how individual-level decision-making affects higher-order ecological phenomena. I use wood warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) as a main model species.

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Wielkopolska National Park (my study area) and the wood warbler. © Jakub Szymkowiak

 

EFFECTS OF MAST SEEDING ON FOREST BIRD COMMUNITIES


Forest habitats are frequently characterized by synchronized and intermittent production of a large seed crop (mast seeding). These “resource pulses” trigger a cascade of direct and indirect effects that permeate throughout forest ecosystem and have crucial consequences for forest communities, including birds. At present, I focus on two themes and investigate: (1) how ecological and life-history traits affect the way birds respond to mast seeding, and (2) how mast seeding affects nest predation on forest songbirds. Here, I also combine my research interests and use interactions between wood warblers and their predators (all of them directly or indirectly respond to mast peaks) as model system to study mechanisms of risk-sensitive habitat selection in fluctuating, pulse-driven environments.

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© Jakub Szymkowiak

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