In dynamic fission–fusion societies, following specific individuals consistently would not be expected in the absence of benefits to followers. Followers in groups may benefit if leaders have greater knowledge about habitats that are available for foraging and how to access these areas efficiently. A small residential population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Lower Florida Keys (LFK) demonstrates such specific individual leadership, but why others choose to follow is unknown. To determine whether consistent leaders demonstrated greater knowledge of resources and habitat we (1) compared habitat use patterns across areas that varied in prey abundance for groups led by consistent leaders and groups led by individuals that did not consistently lead, (2) compared directness of travel along with number of lead animal switches when traveling for these same two group types and (3) compared home range size and home range complexity between animals that consistently led and those that did not. Foraging groups led by consistent leaders were sighted more frequently over habitat with higher fish biomass, while those led by non-consistent leaders were sighted most often over habitat with lower fish biomass. Groups with consistent leaders had less frequent lead animal switches and took more direct paths when traveling than groups led by those that did not consistently lead. Home ranges of consistent leaders did not differ in size from other individuals, but were more complex. Our results indicate that followers in LFK dolphin groups could potentially benefit from those that consistently lead due to use of profitable habitat, ability to navigate efficiently and potentially the number of areas consistent leaders are familiar with.
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