, Volume 99, Issue 4, pp 303-311,
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Social familiarity modulates group living and foraging behaviour of juvenile predatory mites


Environmental stressors during early life may have persistent consequences for phenotypic development and fitness. In group-living species, an important stressor during juvenile development is the presence and familiarity status of conspecific individuals. To alleviate intraspecific conflicts during juvenile development, many animals evolved the ability to discriminate familiar and unfamiliar individuals based on prior association and use this ability to preferentially associate with familiar individuals. Assuming that familiar neighbours require less attention than unfamiliar ones, as predicted by limited attention theory, assorting with familiar individuals should increase the efficiency in other tasks. We assessed the influence of social familiarity on within-group association behaviour, development and foraging of juvenile life stages of the group-living, plant-inhabiting predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis. The observed groups consisted either of mixed-age familiar and unfamiliar juvenile mites or of age-synchronized familiar or unfamiliar juvenile mites or of pairs of familiar or unfamiliar larvae. Overall, familiar mites preferentially grouped together and foraged more efficiently, i.e. needed less prey at similar developmental speed and body size at maturity, than unfamiliar mites. Preferential association of familiar mites was also apparent in the inter-exuviae distances. Social familiarity was established by imprinting in the larval stage, was not cancelled or overridden by later conspecific contacts and persisted into adulthood. Life stage had an effect on grouping with larvae being closer together than nymphal stages. Ultimately, optimized foraging during the developmental phase may relax within-group competition, enhance current and future food supply needed for optimal development and optimize patch exploitation and leaving under limited food.

Communicated by: Sven Thatje