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Experiments with humans indicate that decision accuracy drives the evolution of niche width

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Colin Tosh


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One theory to explain the high incidence of niche specialization in many animals is that it reduces attentional load during resource-seeking behaviour and thus leads to more accurate resource selection.A recent neural network model refined the predictions of this theory, indicating that a cognitive advantagein specialists is likely to occur under realistic ecological conditions, namely when ‘mistakes’ (i.e. selectionof non-host resources) contribute moderately but positively to fitness. Here, we present a formal empiricaltest of the predictions of this model. Using a human– computer interactive, we demonstrate that the central prediction of the model is supported: specialist humans are more accurate decision-makers thangeneralists when their mistakes are rewarded, but not when mistakes are punished. The idea thatincreased decision accuracy drives the evolution of niche width in animals has been supported inalmost all empirical systems in which it has been investigated. Theoretical work supports the idea, andnow the predictions of a key theoretical model have been demonstrated in a real biological informationprocessing system. Considering these interlocking pieces of evidence, we argue that specialization throughincreased decision accuracy may contribute significantly, along with other mechanisms, to promote nichespecialization in animals.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Tosh CR, Ruxton GD, Krause J, Franks DW

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Year: 2011

Volume: 278

Issue: 1724

Pages: 3504-3509

Print publication date: 13/04/2011

ISSN (print): 0962-8452

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2954

Publisher: The Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0478


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