The Value of Patch-Choice Copying in Fruit Flies
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Many animals copy the choices of others but the functional and mechanistic explanations for copying are still not fully resolved. We relied on novel behavioral protocols to quantify the value of patch-choice copying in fruit flies. In a titration experiment, we quantified how much nutritional value females were willing to trade for laying eggs on patches already occupied by larvae (social patches). Females were highly sensitive to nutritional quality, which was positively associated with their offspring success. Females, however, perceived social, low-nutrition patches (33% of the nutrients) as equally valuable as non-social, high-nutrition ones (100% of the nutrients). In follow-up experiments, we could not, however, either find informational benefits from copying others or detect what females' offspring may gain from developing with older larvae. Because patch-choice copying in fruit flies is a robust phenomenon in spite of potential costs due to competition, we suggest that it is beneficial in natural settings, where fruit flies encounter complex dynamics of microbial communities, which include, in addition to the preferred yeast species they feed on, numerous harmful fungi and bacteria. We suggest that microbial ecology underlies many cases of copying in nature.
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