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Organisms may reduce uncertainty regarding how best to exploit their environment by collecting information about resource distribution. We develop a model to demonstrate how competition can facilitate or constrain an individual's ability to use information when acquiring resources. As resource distribution underpins both selection on information use and the strength and nature of competition between individuals, we demonstrate interdependencies between the two that should be common in nature. Individuals in our model can search for resources either personally or by using social information. We explore selection on social information use across a comprehensive range of ecological conditions, generalizing the producer-scrounger framework to a wide diversity of taxa and resources. We show that resource ecology--defined by scarcity, depletion rate and monopolizability--determines patterns of individual differences in social information use. These differences suggest coevolutionary processes linking dominance systems and social information use, with implications for the evolutionary demography of populations.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





decision-making, individual differences, information use, producer–scrounger dynamics, resource ecology, social dominance, Animals, Biological Evolution, Competitive Behavior, Humans, Models, Biological, Social Behavior