Research

LEARNING OF RISK RECOGNITION 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, under natural conditions, 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 risk-related information spreads within avian communties via intra- and interspecific eavesdropping on alarm calls. 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

 

CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF MAST SEEDING


Mast seeding – intermittent, synchronized production of a large seed crop – is a widespread reproductive strategy in perennial plants. As part of an international team led by Dr. Michał Bogdziewicz, I investigate proximate and ultimate drivers of this phenomenon. Moreover, I’m interested in ecological effects of mast seeding on forest ecosystems. Mast peaks constitute “resource pulses” that 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 topics and (1) investigate how mast seeding affects nest predation on forest songbirds, and (2) 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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Wood Warbler’s nest montoring at the Wielkopolska National Park © Jakub Szymkowiak