From compromise to leadership in pigeon homing.
Biro D., Sumpter DJ., Meade J., Guilford T.
A central problem faced by animals traveling in groups is how navigational decisions by group members are integrated, especially when members cannot assess which individuals are best informed or have conflicting information or interests . Pigeons are now known to recapitulate faithfully their individually distinct habitual routes home , and this provides a novel paradigm for investigating collective decisions during flight under varying levels of interindividual conflict. Using high-precision GPS tracking of pairs of pigeons, we found that if conflict between two birds' directional preferences was small, individuals averaged their routes, whereas if conflict rose over a critical threshold, either the pair split or one of the birds became the leader. Modeling such paired decision-making showed that both outcomes-compromise and leadership-could emerge from the same set of simple behavioral rules. Pairs also navigated more efficiently than did the individuals of which they were composed, even though leadership was not necessarily assumed by the more efficient bird. In the context of mass migration of birds and other animals, our results imply that simple self-organizing rules can produce behaviors that improve accuracy in decision-making and thus benefit individuals traveling in groups .