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Social context affects patch-leaving decisions of sheep in a variable environment

Abstract : The value of information on the status of alternative food patches depends upon an animal's ability to exploit those patches; this will depend upon whether it is foraging in a group and its position within the group's social hierarchy. We tested the patch-leaving decisions of sheep, Ovis aries, foraging alone or in pairs in a two-food patch environment. Upon entering an arena the sheep were presented first with a 'stable' patch; a second, unseen patch contained a highly preferred but variable reward. Sheep were individually trained to expect a high or a low probability of reward in the variable patch before the paired tests. When foraging alone, dominant and subordinate individuals left the stable patch earlier when the probability of reward in the variable patch was high; both thus responded to variation in environmental quality. When tested in pairs, dominants followed if subordinates left the stable patch, regardless of their training, whereas subordinates were more likely to follow dominants when the subordinates' training was in a high-quality environment. Thus, while both subordinate and dominant animals can learn the expectation of rewards in a variable environment when foraging alone, dominant animals in pairs use information about both their own and the subordinate's expectation of the environmental quality when deciding whether to move to another patch. In contrast, subordinates may disregard their own experience of environmental quality if it will lead to confrontation with dominants for access to preferred food.
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Contributor : Migration Prodinra <>
Submitted on : Saturday, May 30, 2020 - 12:43:21 AM
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Lindsey Hewitson, Lain J. Gordon, Bertrand Dumont. Social context affects patch-leaving decisions of sheep in a variable environment. Animal Behaviour, Elsevier Masson, 2007, 74 (2), pp.239-246. ⟨hal-02657200⟩



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