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      Hierarchical group dynamics in pigeon flocks

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          Abstract

          Animals that travel together in groups display a variety of fascinating motion patterns thought to be the result of delicate local interactions among group members. Although the most informative way of investigating and interpreting collective movement phenomena would be afforded by the collection of high-resolution spatiotemporal data from moving individuals, such data are scarce and are virtually non-existent for long-distance group motion within a natural setting because of the associated technological difficulties. Here we present results of experiments in which track logs of homing pigeons flying in flocks of up to 10 individuals have been obtained by high-resolution lightweight GPS devices and analyzed using a variety of correlation functions inspired by approaches common in statistical physics. We find a well-defined hierarchy among flock members from data concerning leading roles in pairwise interactions, defined on the basis of characteristic delay times between birds' directional choices. The average spatial position of a pigeon within the flock strongly correlates with its place in the hierarchy, and birds respond more quickly to conspecifics perceived primarily through the left eye - both results revealing differential roles for birds that assume different positions with respect to flock-mates. From an evolutionary perspective, our results suggest that hierarchical organisation of group flight may be more efficient than an egalitarian one, at least for those flock sizes that permit regular pairwise interactions among group members, during which leader-follower relationships are consistently manifested.

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          Most cited references 13

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          Spontaneous emergence of leaders and followers in foraging pairs.

          Animals that forage socially often stand to gain from coordination of their behaviour. Yet it is not known how group members reach a consensus on the timing of foraging bouts. Here we demonstrate a simple process by which this may occur. We develop a state-dependent, dynamic game model of foraging by a pair of animals, in which each individual chooses between resting or foraging during a series of consecutive periods, so as to maximize its own individual chances of survival. We find that, if there is an advantage to foraging together, the equilibrium behaviour of both individuals becomes highly synchronized. As a result of this synchronization, differences in the energetic reserves of the two players spontaneously develop, leading them to adopt different behavioural roles. The individual with lower reserves emerges as the 'pace-maker' who determines when the pair should forage, providing a straightforward resolution to the problem of group coordination. Moreover, the strategy that gives rise to this behaviour can be implemented by a simple 'rule of thumb' that requires no detailed knowledge of the state of other individuals.
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            From compromise to leadership in pigeon homing.

            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 .
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              Social relationships and reproductive state influence leadership roles in movements of plains zebra, Equus burchellii

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                10.1038/nature08891
                1010.5394

                Quantitative & Systems biology, Biophysics, Nonlinear & Complex systems

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