Letter | Published:

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

Nature volume 433, pages 513516 (03 February 2005) | Download Citation

Subjects

Abstract

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.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    & Living in Groups 84–85, 137–143 (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2002)

  2. 2.

    & Self-organization and collective behaviour in vertebrates. Adv. Study Behav. 32, 1–75 (2003)

  3. 3.

    Can a minority of informed leaders determine the foraging movements of a fish shoal? Anim. Behav. 59, 403–409 (2000)

  4. 4.

    , , , & Familiarity facilitates social learning of foraging behaviour in the guppy. Anim. Behav. 62, 591–598 (2001)

  5. 5.

    , , , & Information flow, opinion polling and collective intelligence in house-hunting social insects. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 357, 1567–1583 (2002)

  6. 6.

    Communication in swarm-bees searching for a new home. Nature 179, 63–66 (1957)

  7. 7.

    Honeybee Ecology: a Study of Adaptation in Social Life 71–74 (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 1985)

  8. 8.

    The Wisdom of the Hive 34–35 (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1995)

  9. 9.

    Consensus building during nest-site selection in honey bee swarms: the expiration of dissent. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 53, 417–424 (2003)

  10. 10.

    & Group decision-making in animals. Nature 421, 155–158 (2003)

  11. 11.

    The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees 28–235 (Harvard Univ. Press, Harvard, 1967)

  12. 12.

    & Horse signals: the sounds of scents and fury. Evol. Ecol. 6, 254–260 (1992)

  13. 13.

    Structure and function of fish schools. Sci. Am. 245, 114–123 (1982)

  14. 14.

    & Genetic basis of migratory behaviour in European warblers. Science 212, 77–79 (1981)

  15. 15.

    , , & Rapid microevolution of migratory behaviour in a wild bird species. Nature 360, 668–670 (1992)

  16. 16.

    Mechanisms of fish distribution in heterothermal environments. Am. Zool. 19, 305–317 (1979)

  17. 17.

    Schooling as a strategy for taxis in a noisy environment. Evol. Ecol. 12, 503–522 (1998)

  18. 18.

    , , , & Collective memory and spatial sorting in animal groups. J. Theor. Biol. 218, 1–11 (2002)

  19. 19.

    , , & Context-dependent group-size choice in fish. Anim. Behav. 67, 155–164 (2004)

  20. 20.

    Circular Statistics in Biology 34–36 (Academic, London, 1981)

  21. 21.

    Many wrongs: the advantage of group navigation. Trends Ecol. Evol. 19, 453–455 (2004)

  22. 22.

    , & Moving and staying together without a leader. Physica D 181, 157–170 (2003)

Download references

Acknowledgements

I.D.C. thanks the Pew Charitable Trusts, the NSF and the EPSRC for their support. I.D.C. and J.K. acknowledge an EPSRC grant and are also grateful for fellowships at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research, University of Bielefeld, where we had the opportunity to develop this research. S.A.L. acknowledges support from the NSF and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and N.R.F. from the EPSRC and the BBSRC. I.D.C. thanks Balliol College for support and S. Pratt, D. Rubenstein, D. James and A. Ward for their input.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Iain D. Couzin
    •  & Simon A. Levin
  2. Department of Zoology, South Parks Road, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK

    • Iain D. Couzin
  3. Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

    • Jens Krause
  4. Centre for Behavioural Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UG, UK

    • Nigel R. Franks

Authors

  1. Search for Iain D. Couzin in:

  2. Search for Jens Krause in:

  3. Search for Nigel R. Franks in:

  4. Search for Simon A. Levin in:

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Iain D. Couzin.

Supplementary information

Word documents

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Figure 1

    This figure shows the influence of imperfect information on the relationship between weighting ω and the accuracy of groups and the proportion of groups that split (a), and the proportion of informed individuals p and accuracy and proportion of splitting (b).

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03236

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.