Animal Behavior in a Functional Community-Ecology Context

Behavioral plasticity can be a key driver of network dynamics (adaptive foraging, re-wiring) and ecological functioning (e.g. pollinator behavior as a driver of pollination functioning). We are interested in a range of fundamental topics in behavior that affect these relationships, including intraspecific variation in behavior (a key research interest of Donna) and social information. We have developed a completely computer-controlled foraging enclosure, with artificial flowers whose rewards are triggered by tiny radio-frequency ID (RFID) tags that allows for nearly complete control of foraging rewards, allowing for powerful experimental approaches in behavior.

Key Papers

Hodges CL, Delaplane KS, Brosi BJ. 2019. Textured hive interiors increase honey bee propolis hoarding behavior. Journal of Economic Entomology, 112(2): 986–990
Ayers CA, Brosi BJ, Armsworth PR. 2018. Statistically testing the role of individual learning and decision-making in trapline foraging. Behavioral Ecology, 29. 885-893
Rossetti B, Dynes T, Zhang X, Brosi BJ, de Roode JC, Kong J. 2018. GRAPHITE: A Graphical Environment for Scalable Video Tracking of Animal Movement. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 9: 956–964
Valdovinos, F.S., B.J. Brosi, H.M. Briggs, P. Moisset de Espanés, R. Ramos-Jiliberto, N.D. Martinez. Niche partitioning due to adaptive foraging reverses effects of nestedness and connectance on pollination network stability. Ecology Letters, 2016. 19(10): 1277–1286.

This paper integrates modeling and our field data from Colorado, and shows that “adaptive foraging”—behavioral plasticity in foraging intensity on different resources—is key for stabilizing pollination networks, but has different effects in networks with different structures.

B.J. Brosi. Pollinator specialization: from the individual to the community. New Phytologist, 2016. 210: 1190–1194

This review lays out why foraging choices in pollinators, at multiple scales, can drive important system properties including diversity-functioning relationships.

Ayers, C.A., P.R. Armsworth, B.J. Brosi. Determinism as a statistical metric for ecologically important recurrent behaviors with trapline foraging as a case study. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 2015. 69:1395–1404

Trapline foraging is a key behavioral tactic used by pollinators and many other groups of animals. This work develops a new method for measuring traplining—which has been notoriously challenging to quantify—borrowing quantitative tools from statistical physics.

Brosi BJ, Briggs HM (2013). Single pollinator species losses reduce floral fidelity and plant reproductive function. PNAS, 110(32): 13044-13048

Most biodiversity-functioning relationships predict relatively rapid saturation of functioning with diversity. In this work we showed that removing even a single species can have negative functional consequences, driven by behavioral plasticity in the remaining species.


Former graduate student Dr. Carolyn Ayers led work using our unique foraging experimental setup to investigate the effects of bee diversity on functionally relevant behaviors (in other words, behaviorally-driven biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships). She followed this up with a study on how sublethal pesticide exposure affects diversity – functioning relationships, with support from the National Science Foundation. Both of these papers will be submitted shortly.

Driven largely by Donna McDermott, we have recently begun collaborating with Emory colleagues Michal Arbilly (Biology) and Ilya Nemenman and David Hofmann (Physics) to integrate mathematically rigorous information theory and foraging ecology, with a focus on gathering of personal vs. social information and the role of individual behavioral differences in the use of information from different sources. This work combines theory and experiments using our foraging enclosure.