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Wolves take more risks than dogs when foraging for food

A new study claims that difference, which seems to be innate, is consistent with the hypothesis that risk preference evolves as a function of ecology.

Dogs, wolves, evolutionary process, food foraging, risk taking tendencies, research, world news. world others The researchers believe that the evolutionary changes in dietary habits happened between 18,000 to 32,000 years ago when humans first domesticated dogs from wolves. (Representational Picture)

Wolves are more likely than dogs to take risks when foraging for food, adopting an all-or-nothing strategy, according to a new study.

When faced with the choice between an insipid food pellet and a fifty-fifty chance of either tasty meat or an inedible stone, wolves nearly always choose the risky option, whereas dogs are more cautious.

“We compared the propensity to take risks in a foraging context between wolves and dogs that had been raised under the same conditions,” said Sarah Marshall-Pescini, a postdoctoral fellow at the Veterinary University of Vienna.

“We found that wolves prefer the risky option significantly more often than dogs,” said Marshall-Pescini.

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“This difference, which seems to be innate, is consistent with the hypothesis that risk preference evolves as a function of ecology,” she said.

Researchers let seven wolves and seven dogs choose 80 times between two upside-down bowls, placed side-by-side on a movable table-top.

The animals had been trained to indicate the bowl of their choice with their paw or muzzle, after which they would receive the item that was hidden beneath it.

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Researchers taught the wolves and dogs that beneath the first bowl, the “safe” option, was an insipid food pellet.

The second bowl – the “risky” option – was either an inedible item, a stone, or high-quality food, such as meat, sausage or chicken.

Rigorously designed control trials confirmed that the animals understood this rule, including the element of chance.

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The study found that wolves were much more prone to take risks than dogs.

Wolves chose the risky option in 80 per cent of trials, whereas dogs only did so in 58 per cent of trials.

The researchers believe that dogs evolved a more cautious temperament after they underwent an evolutionary shift from their ancestral hunter lifestyle to their present scavenger lifestyle, which happened between 18,000 to 32,000 years ago when humans first domesticated dogs from wolves.

Previous research has suggested that species that rely on patchily distributed, uncertain food sources are generally more risk-prone.

For example, chimpanzees, which feed on fruit trees and hunt for monkeys, are more risk-prone than bonobos, which rely more on terrestrial vegetation, a temporally and spatially reliable food source.

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“Wild wolves hunt large ungulates – a risky strategy, not only because hunts often fail, but also because these prey animals can be dangerous – whereas free-ranging dogs, which make up 80 per cent of the world’s dog population, feed mostly by scavenging on human refuse, a ubiquitous, unlimited resource,” said Marshall-Pescini.

“So dogs no longer need to take risks when searching for food, and this may have selected for a preference to play if safe,” she said.

First published on: 02-09-2016 at 07:04:33 pm
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