Behavioural variation within a species is usually explained as the consequence of individual variation in physiology. However, new evidence suggests that the arrow of causality may well be in the reverse direction: behaviours such as diet preferences cause the differences in physiological and morphological traits. Recently, diet preferences were proposed to underlie consistent differences in digestive organ mass and movement patterns (patch residence times) in red knots (Calidris canutus islandica). Red knots are molluscivorous and migrant shorebirds for which the size of the muscular stomach (gizzard) is critical for the food processing rate. In this study, red knots (C. c. canutus, n = 46) were caught at Banc d'Arguin, an intertidal flat ecosystem in Mauritania, and released with radio-tags after the measurement of gizzard mass. Using a novel tracking system (time-of-arrival), patch residence times were measured over a period of three weeks. Whether or not gizzard mass determined patch residence times was tested experimentally by offering 12 of the 46 tagged red knots soft diets prior to release; this reduced an individual's gizzard mass by 20-60%. To validate whether the observed range of patch residence times would be expected from individual diet preferences, we simulated patch residence times as a function of diet preferences via a simple departure rule. Consistent with previous empirical studies, patch residence times in the field were positively correlated with gizzard mass. The slope of this correlation, as well as the observed range of patch residence times, was in accordance with the simulated values. The 12 birds with reduced gizzard masses did not decrease patch residence times in response to the reduction in gizzard mass. These findings suggest that diet preferences can indeed cause the observed among-individual variation in gizzard mass and patch residence times. We discuss how early diet experiences can have cascading effects on the individual expression of both behavioural and physiomorphic traits. This emphasizes that to understand the ecological consequences of individual differences, knowledge of the environment during development is required.
The datapackage contains two sets:
Table of residence time patches: foraging locations visited by red knots, deployed with radiotransmitters, during the low tide. A description of each column can be found in a separate sheet. Further information is found in the methods section of the publication.
Table containing sampled prey items for the red knot, consisting of molluscs of ingestable sizes in the top 4 cm of the sediment. The file contains a separate sheet with column discriptions. More information can be found in the methods section of the publication.