Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 13, Issue 7, pp 641-653

First online:

Neophobia and Dietary Conservatism:Two Distinct Processes?

  • N.M. MarplesAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, Trinity College Email author 
  • , D.J. KellyAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, Trinity College

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Birds show distinct hesitation when approaching novel food and this has been termed ‘neophobia’. In laboratory-held birds like domestic chicks this effect lasts for a matter of a few minutes at most, but hesitant attack of novel foods can last for weeks or even months in wild birds. This effect, called ‘dietary conservatism’, seems to be a different type of learning process from neophobia as first described and has hitherto been largely overlooked. This paper presents some evidence for the view that the processes may be fundamentally different. We outline results from laboratory chicks that show neophobia to be easily deactivated by experience, which renders it unlikely to be an important force in wild birds. We also report evidence that the process of incorporation of novel food into the diet is not a simple one-stage process but includes at least four steps of assessment. The paper concludes with an outline of the importance of dietary conservatism in our understanding of the evolution of aposematism and the workings of mimicry.

aposematism avian predation chicks diet food novelty mimicry