Decision-making in pigeon flocks: a democratic view of leadership
When travelling in groups, animals frequently have to make decisions on the direction of travel. These decisions can be based on consensus, when all individuals take part in the decision (i.e. democratic decision; social information), or leadership, when one member or a minority of members make the decision (i.e. despotic decision; personal information). Here we investigated whether decision-making on the navigation of small flocks is based on democratic or despotic decisions. Using individual and flock releases as the experimental approach, we compared the homing performances of homing pigeons that fly singly and in groups of three. Our findings show that although small groups were either governed (i.e. when individuals in the flock had age differences) or not (i.e. when individuals in the flock had the same age) by leaders, with concern to decision-making they were all ruled by democratic decisions. Moreover, the individual homing performances were not associated with leadership. Because true leaders did not assume right away the front position in the flock, we suggest that as in human groups, starting from a central position is more effective as it allows leaders to not only transmit their own information but also to average the tendencies of the other group members. Together, the results highlight the importance of democratic decisions in group decision-making.