Experimental resource pulses influence social-network dynamics and the potential for information flow in tool-using crows

, , , , , , , , and . Nature Communications (November 2015)


Social-network dynamics have profound consequences for biological processes such as information flow, but are notoriously difficult to measure in the wild. We used novel transceiver technology to chart association patterns across 19 days in a wild population of the New Caledonian crow—a tool-using species that may socially learn, and culturally accumulate, tool-related information. To examine the causes and consequences of changing network topology, we manipulated the environmental availability of the crows’ preferred tool-extracted prey, and simulated, in silico, the diffusion of information across field-recorded time-ordered networks. Here we show that network structure responds quickly to environmental change and that novel information can potentially spread rapidly within multi-family communities, especially when tool-use opportunities are plentiful. At the same time, we report surprisingly limited social contact between neighbouring crow communities. Such scale dependence in information-flow dynamics is likely to influence the evolution and maintenance of material cultures.

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