Life is uncertain. To reduce uncertainty and make adaptive decisions, individuals need to collect information. Individuals often visit the breeding sites of their conspecifics (i.e., “prospect”), likely to assess conspecifics’ reproductive success and to use such information to identify high-quality spots for future breeding. We investigated whether visitation rate by prospectors and success of visited sites are causally linked. We manipulated the reproductive success (enlarged, reduced, and control broods) in a nest-box population of migratory pied flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca, in Finland. We measured the visitation rates of prospectors at 87 nest-boxes continuously from manipulation (day 3 after hatching) to fledging. 302 adult pied flycatchers prospected 9194 times on these manipulated nests (at least 78% of detected prospectors were successful breeders). While the number of visitors and visits was not influenced by the relative change in brood size we induced, the resulting absolute brood size predicted the prospecting behaviour: the larger the brood size after manipulation, the more visitors and visits a nest had. The parental provisioning rate at a nest and brood size pre-manipulation did not predict the number of visitors or visits post-manipulation. More visitors, however, inspected early than late nests and broods in good condition. Our study suggests that individuals collect social information when visiting conspecific nests during breeding and provides evidence that large broods attract more visitors than small broods. We discuss the results in light of individual decision-making by animals in their natural environments.
Brood size Information use Prospecting RFID Social information
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We thank Matias Ukkola, Kirsi Ukkola, and Jenna Ruohonen for assistance in the field. The project was funded by the Academy of Finland (grants to TL). We are grateful to Hannu Pöysä, Blandine Doligez, and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments.
Author contribution statement
All authors designed the experiment and conducted fieldwork. WS processed the data. WS, SC performed statistics. WS wrote the manuscript; other authors provided editorial advice.
Compliance with ethical standards
All applicable national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. The procedures had been approved by the Animal Experiment Board of Finland (animal experiment committee of Southern Finland, ID: VARELY/338/07.01/2012).
Raw data are provided in the Electronic Supplementary Material (Online Resource 5, Table S4).
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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