Giovanni Spezie, MSc

PhD Student

Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna

Most of my academic education took place between the University of Bologna and the University of Turin (Italy), from which I graduated in 2017 in Evolution of Animal and Human Behaviour. My biological background has fuelled my deep fascination for the biological foundations of animal behaviour and its ultimate causation. More specifically, I have always been passionate about exaggerated sexual traits and elaborate courtship displays, particularly in birds. My main research questions concern the influence of asocial and social experience on the development of sexual complex displays in an Australian avian species, the spotted bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus macultus). I am currently investigating whether social interactions between juvenile inexperienced males and sexually mature adult males may result in the acquisition of attractive courtship elements by the former.

Thesis project: Learning to be attractive: testing the role of social experience in the development of complex sexual signalling.

Anecdotal and observational reports on the behaviour of immature males of several lek-breeding bird species suggest that social experience plays a likely role in shaping the development of skilful courtship performance. The aim of this project is to further investigate how much social learning is involved in the ontogeny of elaborate courtship displays in the spotted bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus maculatus). Different populations of spotted bowerbirds have been shown to exhibit local variants of bower structures, and spatial patterns of similarities were also found in a single population at Taunton National Park Scientific (Queensland), suggesting the existence of local traditions based on cultural transmission. Two specific contexts seem to provide opportunities for social learning in this species. Mature bower owners regularly tolerate one or more auxiliary males at their bowers, which attend the arena for about one year. During their visits, these young males are displayed to by adults and attentively observe their routines. Juvenile males also practice their own display sequences and bower building abilities in communal rudimentary bowers, which are attended by several males of different age classes at the same time and are seldom visited by females. We are going to investigate these complex same-age and tutor-pupil interactions by means of automated video cameras and GPS remote tracking devices over two breeding seasons, in order to have insights into juvenile visitation patterns, improving display parameters and male model selection.

Participants: Leonida Fusani, Joah Madden (School of Psychology, University of Exeter)

Funded by Austrian Science Fund (FWF), Doctoral College Cognition and Communication 2