Some animals, such as ants and termites, cooperate in a variety of ways to perform tasks. To test whether partially informed individuals can pool their experiences, Mike Webster and his colleagues at the University of St Andrews, UK, challenged groups of threespine stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus) with two tasks: swimming through an environment towards a green light, and then entering a box through a small hole to find food.
The researchers trained individual fish on just one or other of the tasks, and left some completely untrained. Next, they placed fish in groups with different combinations of experiences and counted how many in each group completed the challenge. Untrained fish with groupmates experienced in both tasks were more likely to find the food than those grouped with other untrained individuals or with fish knowledgeable in just one of the tasks.
Fish with diverse experiences may benefit a group by helping each other to find new food sources and to avoid predators, the authors suggest.