Animals live in an uncertain world. To reduce uncertainty, animals use cues that can encode diverse information regarding habitat quality, including both non-social and social cues. While it is increasingly appreciated that the sources of potential information are vast, our understanding of how individuals integrate different types of cues to guide decision-making remains limited. We experimentally manipulated both resource quality (presence/absence of cactus fruit) and social cues (conspecific juveniles, heterospecific juveniles, no juveniles) for a cactus-feeding insect, Narniafemorata (Hemiptera: Coreidae), to ask how individuals responded to resource quality in the presence or absence of social cues. Cactus with fruit is a high-quality environment for juvenile development, and indeed we found that females laid 56% more eggs when cactus fruit was present versus when it was absent. However, when conspecific or heterospecific juveniles were present, the effects of resource quality on egg numbers vanished. Overall, N. femorata laid approximately twice as many eggs in the presence of heterospecifics than alone or in the presence of conspecifics. Our results suggest that the presence of both conspecific and heterospecific social cues can disrupt responses of individuals to environmental gradients in resource quality.
Miller, C. W., Fletcher, R. J., & Gillespie, S. R. (2013). Conspecific and Heterospecific Cues Override Resource Quality to Influence Offspring Production. PLoS ONE, 8(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0070268