What is the best way to attract and pursue a mate? This question is central for understanding how animal behaviour evolves through sexual selection. In the arctic, some male shorebirds almost entirely forgo sleep during the breeding season, and males that sleep least have the most offspring. These findings defy our understanding of the importance of sleep for optimal performance. So which specific behaviours are key to the success of these birds?
Here, we propose using state-of-the-art accelerometers and machine learning models, together with conventional field methods, to explore how behaviour affects reproductive success in arctic shorebirds. Specifically, we will investigate whether the duration and frequency of courtship and territorial behaviours predicts number of offspring, and whether these behaviours vary with time spent awake. This unique research will focus on two species: polygynous pectoral sandpipers and sex-role-reversed red phalaropes. The research will combine the supervisor’s well-established methods for studying arctic shorebirds, the supervisor’s expertise in sexual selection, the researcher’s experience collecting and analysing large accelerometry datasets, and the researcher’s expertise in avian sleep.
The proposed research will have four key implications. First, it will reveal whether overall time spent active is most important for reproductive success, as implied by previous research in pectoral sandpipers, or whether specific behaviours are key. Second, it will examine how extreme sleep loss relates to behaviour in wild birds, which might offer insights into sleep’s functions. Third, it will elucidate the behavioural strategies of males and females in a novel sex-role-reversed mating system, and compare these with a polygynous species in the same environment. Finally, the research will test the extent to which accelerometry can distinguish behaviour in a natural context, which has broader value for behavioural research.
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