Effective leadership and decision-making in animal groups on the move

Nature. 2005 Feb 3;433(7025):513-6. doi: 10.1038/nature03236.


For animals that forage or travel in groups, making movement decisions often depends on social interactions among group members. However, in many cases, few individuals have pertinent information, such as knowledge about the location of a food source, or of a migration route. Using a simple model we show how information can be transferred within groups both without signalling and when group members do not know which individuals, if any, have information. We reveal that the larger the group the smaller the proportion of informed individuals needed to guide the group, and that only a very small proportion of informed individuals is required to achieve great accuracy. We also demonstrate how groups can make consensus decisions, even though informed individuals do not know whether they are in a majority or minority, how the quality of their information compares with that of others, or even whether there are any other informed individuals. Our model provides new insights into the mechanisms of effective leadership and decision-making in biological systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animal Migration / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Group Processes*
  • Leadership
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Population Density