Letters to Nature

Nature 433, 513-516 (3 February 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03236; Received 10 August 2004; Accepted 30 November 2004

Effective leadership and decision-making in animal groups on the move

Iain D. Couzin1,2, Jens Krause3, Nigel R. Franks4 & Simon A. Levin1

  1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA
  2. Department of Zoology, South Parks Road, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
  3. Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
  4. Centre for Behavioural Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UG, UK

Correspondence to: Iain D. Couzin1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to I.D.C. (Email: iain.couzin@zoo.ox.ac.uk or Email: icouzin@princeton.edu).

For animals that forage or travel in groups, making movement decisions often depends on social interactions among group members1, 2. However, in many cases, few individuals have pertinent information, such as knowledge about the location of a food source3, 4, or of a migration route5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Using a simple model we show how information can be transferred within groups both without signalling and when group members do not know which individuals, if any, have information. We reveal that the larger the group the smaller the proportion of informed individuals needed to guide the group, and that only a very small proportion of informed individuals is required to achieve great accuracy. We also demonstrate how groups can make consensus decisions, even though informed individuals do not know whether they are in a majority or minority, how the quality of their information compares with that of others, or even whether there are any other informed individuals. Our model provides new insights into the mechanisms of effective leadership and decision-making in biological systems.

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