Individuals as information sources: Could followers benefit from leaders’ knowledge?

in Behaviour
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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.

Individuals as information sources: Could followers benefit from leaders’ knowledge?

in Behaviour



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    Lower Florida Keys study area. Numbered areas represent survey zones which include most navigable water. This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via

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    Map of the benthic habitats in Man of War Harbor (outlined in black).

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    Mean biomass (g/h) ± SE of fish across the three major benthic habitats (SU, shallow unvegetated; SV, shallow vegetated; DC, deep channel) in the Lower Florida Keys, with significance levels for paired contrasts (Mann–Whitney U-tests with Bonferoni correction: SU vs. SV, U=1453, Z=4.83, p<0.0001; SU vs. DC, U=2829, Z=1.64, p=0.05; SV vs. DC, U=20432.5, Z=4.81, p<0.0001).

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    Frequency of encounter for foraging groups with consistent leaders and non-consistent leaders according to benthic habitat (shallow vegetated and deep channel) in Man of War Harbor (MOW). Only shallow vegetated and deep channel habitats were available in MOW. Shallow vegetated habitat has more potential biomass of dolphin prey (mean ± SE = 95.1 ± 7.8 g/h), compared to deep channel habitat (mean ± SE = 76.6 ± 8.7 g/h). Number of encounters is greater than the number of survey days because on some days, more than one group was encountered in MOW.

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    (A) Association between number of changes in vanguard animal, and directness of paths taken when traveling for all bottlenose dolphin groups sampled. (B) Association between directness of paths taken when traveling and speed of travel for dolphin groups in the Lower Florida Keys.

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    Frequency distribution created by random permutations of the data set for mean number of distinct areas within an individual home range (95% fixed kernel contour), for dolphins in the waters of the Lower Florida Keys (LFK). Distinct areas were defined as being separated in large part by impassible area (by land or extreme shallows). LFK consistent leaders had more distinct areas within their home ranges than expected based on chance.


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