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Phobic finches: Investigating neophobia reactions in a colour polymorphic specialist, the Gouldian finch, Erythrura gouldiae.

Eccles, GR (2018) Phobic finches: Investigating neophobia reactions in a colour polymorphic specialist, the Gouldian finch, Erythrura gouldiae. Masters thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Unpredictable changes to familiar environmental conditions, owing to Human Induced Rapid Environmental Change (HIREC), are increasingly presenting novel stimuli and creating strong selection pressures on specialist species to adapt to these changes. Neophobia is an ecologically relevant and adaptive fear behaviour, functioning to allow animals to avoid danger. However, cognitive mechanisms such as neophobia are seldom investigated within conservation research. This thesis examines the neophobic responses of a food and habitat specialist, the Gouldian finch, Erythrura gouldiae, within captive conditions across two experimental trial conditions. Dietary wariness was investigated to determine how this food specialist will respond to the novel appearance of food (neophobia) which deviates from in-situ habitat preferences. Furthermore, investigation into the attenuation to novel food was conducted to determine changes in the acceptance of novel food over time and the existence of dietary conservatism within this species. Gouldian finches were also exposed to novel environments in separate testing conditions. I investigated spatial neophobia to determine how this habitat specialist will respond to ecologically relevant habitat types, which replicate and deviate from in-situ habitat preferences. I interpret Gouldian finch responses to novel food and novel environments into the ecological consequences dietary wariness (food neophobia and dietary conservatism) and spatial neophobia may have on wild populations. Furthermore, Gouldian finches are colour polymorphic in both sexes and previous research has shown head colour signals personality within this species; red-headed birds are more aggressive, yet less explorative and risk taking than black-headed birds. This offers the opportunity to further investigate head colour in food and spatial neophobia contexts and investigate dietary conservatism in addition to food neophobia. The effects of age and sex were also investigated as previous research has shown age and sex effects are inconclusive in other species and only object neophobia has been investigated in the Gouldian finch to date. Throughout this thesis, I provide evidence that Gouldian finches consistently elicit greater strengths of neophobia to novelty, which deviates the most from in-situ food and habitat preferences. Gouldian finches were more hesitant to approach and feed on novel food than familiar food (Chapter Two). Moreover, finches consistently discriminated between food types, showing continual preference for the familiar food and highlighting this specialist evidences high proportions of dietary conservatism within the population (Chapter Two). Further, I found these attenuation responses to novel food were consistent between trials (Chapter Two). An effect of age was identified showing younger birds fed on the novel food faster than older birds (Chapter Two). Gouldian finches were more hesitant to approach and enter open habitats than dense habitats in both trial conditions (Chapter Three). Males demonstrate more hesitancy than females to approach novel habitats and younger birds entered novel habitats sooner than older birds within the first trial condition (Chapter Three). Finch responses to habitats differed with social contexts as birds partnered with black-headed finches demonstrated greater conflict to approach habitats but entered sooner in comparison to birds partnered with red-headed finches (Chapter Three). Entry latencies into novel habitats were significantly correlated within both trial conditions, demonstrating consistent responses in both trial conditions (Chapter Three). I found evidence that food and spatial neophobia were correlated in one trial condition only, representing inverse relationships on feeding latencies to novel food and entry latencies into open habitats and a positive relationship in the conflict to approach novel food and dense habitats (Chapter Three). I provide further evidence that neophobia is an effective cognitive mechanism to augment conservation research and supplement previous research, which highlights Gouldian finches are particularly vulnerable to changing environmental conditions. Specifically, I propose Gouldian finches will not incorporate new food types into the diet and deliver the first evidence to show the faster assessment and entry into novel environments is facilitated by the presence of a black-headed finch. These findings evidence the effect of head colour should no longer be overlooked in conservation research on this species.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Gouldian Finch; Food Neophobia; Spatial Neophobia; Dietary Conservatism; Colour Polymorphism; Food Specialist; Habitat Specialist; Personality; Conservation
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology
Divisions: Natural Sciences & Psychology (closed 31 Aug 19)
Date Deposited: 01 Oct 2018 09:15
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2022 15:55
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk.00009329
Supervisors: Mettke-Hofmann, CCP, Bethell, EJ and Greggor, AL
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/9329
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