Determinants of leadership in groups of female mallards

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When moving in groups, social animals tend to follow a leader which successfully attracted them. Many variables are known to affect an individual’s propensity to act as a leader. Depending on their nature, these variables underlie two theoretical paradigms (i) ‘leadership according to social indifference’, characterised by differences in personality or sociability, or (ii) ‘leadership according to need’, characterised by differences in energetic requirements or information content. Currently, it is not clear under which circumstances each of the two paradigms plays a larger role. Here, we tried to understand these paradigms by observing collective movements in female mallards. Each of these mallards previously learned individually to associate one of four locations in a maze with food rewards. We then formed groups of various compositions (group size range: 2–5 individuals) with respect to personality, sociability, energetic requirements, motivation and information content. We found that groups remained cohesive, and that certain individuals were consistent leaders within and between trials. The order of entering the maze was mainly determined by energetic requirements. However, soon after entering the maze, the progression order changed. Then, more socially indifferent individuals took the lead and this new order remained constant until all individuals reached the final location, which was usually the one the leader had learned. In addition, we investigated the role of naïve individuals in group decision-making. In our setup, adding naïve individuals broke the leadership consistency between trials and increased fission events. Overall, our results show that the onset of collective movements may be driven by different mechanisms compared to the movement progression itself.

Determinants of leadership in groups of female mallards

in Behaviour

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Figures

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    Distribution of the pre-departure behaviours (5 leftmost variables) and of the individual characteristics (5 rightmost variables), cut by the position in the Start Order. Asterisks represent the statistical significance of the associated CLMM: p<0.01, ∗∗ p<0.001.

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    Distribution of the pre-departure behaviours (5 leftmost variables) and of the individual characteristics (5 rightmost variables), cut by the position in the End Order. Asterisks represent the statistical significance of the associated CLMM: p<0.01, ∗∗ p<0.001.

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    Schematic representation of the consistency of positions during group movements. For each set, the thin black line represents the number of group movements without group fission; the thick blue line represents the 95% confidence interval corresponding to how often individuals in a group are expected to change positions according to random shuffling of first individuals’ identities between the End Order and the Start Order or the First Choice Order (10 000 permutations for each set); the red vertical line represents how many times positions were the same between the Start Order and the End Order; and the green vertical line with diamonds represents how many times positions were identical between the First Choice Order and the End Order.

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    Sketch of the setup used in the Collective decision experiments. In a first step of the overall protocol, mallards learnt individually to associate an end compartment with the presence of a certain amount of appetent food (+) or with the double amount (++). In the second step of the protocol, various groups were formed and the overall group trajectories as well as the identities of leaders and followers were recorded. Here, the group consists of two individuals (blue) trained to go to a relatively low food reward (blue) and of one individual (pink) trained to go to a more rewarding location (pink). Thin dashed line: putative trajectory of the group represented in the pre-start compartment; Thick dashed lines, trap doors; ellipses, positions retained to analyse order in the group movement.

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