Misinformation and assessment uncertainty in the ecology of information use

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Koops, Marten A.
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The purpose to acquiring and using information is to improve the decision process. But not all information improves decisions. Some information is incorrect, i.e. misinformation, or variable, leading to assessment uncertainty. Both misinformation and uncertainty can result in erroneous decisions. In this thesis, I investigate the role of misinformation and assessment uncertainty in the decision process, specifically considering situations where animals cannot distinguish when information is incorrect. I start by theoretically investigating the influence of reliability on the value of information. Here, I demonstrate that the higher the marginal costs of information, the lower the minimum reliability of information. I further demonstrate that tolerance to misinformation will be affected by a feature of the animal's life history--how current payoffs map to fitness. The greater the fitness consequences of current payoffs, the greater the tolerance to misinformation. Animals may also make erroneous decisions from assessment uncertainty associated with sampling. I develop the Z model of perceptual constraints to model the decision process when perceptual ability is constrained by assessment uncertainty. The Z model predicts that perception will be constrained when differences are small, variability is high, or information is limited. A group of foragers constrained by uncertainty are predicted to conform best to the distribution of resources, i.e. exhibit an ideal free distribution, when food is abundant, competitors are few, or memory is good. With individual differences in competitive ability comes the potential to exploit information niches, with good competitors predicted to exhibit shorter memory than poor competitors. A potential source of information about the quality of food patches is the aggression of foragers. In an experiment with female guppies, 'Poecilia reticulata', I find that even though I affect a change in the distribution of aggression, the distribution of foragers is unaffected. This suggests that guppies do not use aggression as public information about patch quality. High variability makes aggression unlikely to be a reliable source of information about patch quality.