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Open Access Research article

The emergence of leaders and followers in foraging pairs when the qualities of individuals differ

Sean A Rands123*, Guy Cowlishaw2, Richard A Pettifor2, J Marcus Rowcliffe2 and Rufus A Johnstone1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK

2 Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, London NW1 4RY, UK

3 Centre for Behavioural Biology, School of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford, North Somerset BS40 5DU, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:51  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-51

Published: 18 February 2008

Abstract

Background

Foraging in groups offers animals a number of advantages, such as increasing their likelihood of finding food or detecting and avoiding predators. In order for a group to remain together, there has to be some degree of coordination of behaviour and movement between its members (which may in some cases be initiated by a decision-making leader, and in other cases may emerge as an underlying property of the group). For example, behavioural synchronisation is a phenomenon where animals within a group initiate and then continue to conduct identical behaviours, and has been characterised for a wide range of species. We examine how a pair of animals should behave using a state-dependent approach, and ask what conditions are likely to lead to behavioural synchronisation occurring, and whether one of the individuals is more likely to act as a leader.

Results

The model we describe considers how the energetic gain, metabolic requirements and predation risks faced by the individuals affect measures of their energetic state and behaviour (such as the degree of behavioural synchronisation seen within the pair, and the value to an individual of knowing the energetic state of its colleague). We explore how predictable changes in these measures are in response to changes in physiological requirements and predation risk. We also consider how these measures should change when the members of the pair are not identical in their metabolic requirements or their susceptibility to predation. We find that many of the changes seen in these measures are complex, especially when asymmetries exist between the members of the pair.

Conclusion

Analyses are presented that demonstrate that, although these general patterns are robust, care needs to be taken when considering the effects of individual differences, as the relationship between individual differences and the resulting qualitative changes in behaviour may be complex. We discuss how these results are related to experimental observations, and how the model and its predictions could be extended.