Temperament and hunger interact to determine the emergence of leaders in pairs of foraging fish

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e43747. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043747. Epub 2012 Aug 29.


Studies on leadership have focused either on physiological state as the key predictor (i.e. "leading according to need"), or else on temperamental asymmetries among group members (i.e. intrinsic leadership). In this paper, we explore how both factors interact in determining the emergence of leaders. We observed pairs of sticklebacks with varying degrees of temperamental difference, and recorded their movements back and forth between a safe covered area and a risky foraging area, both before and after satiating one of the two pair members (but not the other). Before satiation, when the fish had similar hunger levels, temperament was a good predictor of social roles, with the bolder member of a pair leading and the shyer member following. The effect of satiation depended on which fish received the additional food. When the shyer member of a pair was fed, and consequently became less active, the bolder fish did not change its behaviour but continued to lead. By contrast, when the bolder member of a pair was fed, and consequently initiated fewer trips out of cover, the shyer partner compensated by initiating trips more frequently itself. In pairs that differed only a little in temperament, feeding the bolder fish actually led to a role reversal, with the shyer fish emerging as a leader in the majority of joint trips out of cover. Our results show that leadership emerges as the consequence of multiple factors, and that their interaction can be complex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Hunger*
  • Leadership
  • Satiation
  • Smegmamorpha / physiology*
  • Temperament*

Grant support

This study was funded by a grant from the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour to AM and a fellowship from the Japan Society of the Promotion of Science to SN. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. No additional external funding was received for this study.