Animals face uncertainty in virtually every decision they make: where to forage, with whom to mate, etc. Uncertainty can have profound consequences for organisms when it leads them to make the wrong decisions, such as foraging in a patch where all prey are of poor quality, and animals have developed various means of coping with uncertainty.
For example, animals can invest in sampling behaviour; gathering and storing information about relevant features of the environment. Sampling reduces uncertainty and allows animals to track changes in the environment. Animals can also invest in insurance as a buffer against the potential negative consequences of uncertainty. For example, investing in fat reserves will buffer an individual against unpredictably occurring poor foraging bouts. Individuals living in an uncertain world can benefit from both information and insurance, yet individuals often differ in how they invest in these alternatives.
Why do some individuals value information more than others, and what are the consequences of such differences for how individuals cope with changing conditions?
Using the red knot (Calidris canutus islandica) as a model species, this project will provide the first comprehensive study of consistent individual differences in information use by: 1) quantifying individual differences in the use of information and insurance, 2) testing alternative proximate underpinnings for such differences, 3) exploring the ecological consequences of such differences for phenomena including migration, and 4) investigating the role of early experience in shaping information and insurance use.
Behavioural plasticity plays a key role in allowing organisms to adapt to changing conditions, and information is necessary for animals to adjust their behaviour appropriately. Understanding how and why individuals differ in the way they invest in information will provide key insights into how animals are expected to cope in a rapidly changing world.