New research explores how pigeons make joint navigational decisions when travelling together

Nov 07, 2006
A pigeon in flight. Credit: Robin Freeman.
A pigeon in flight. Credit: Robin Freeman.

The issue of how animals make navigational decisions, when travelling in a group, has been examined by a group of researchers from Oxford's Department of Zoology. The research team used miniature GPS tracking to follow the homing flights of pairs of pigeons, where the two birds had different preferred routes back to their loft.

In their report ‘From compromise to leadership in pigeon homing’, published in Current Biology on 7 November, researchers found that if two birds had only slight differences over the route to take, they compromised and took the middle way. If, however, the difference of opinion was considerable one of the birds became the leader, or the pair split. Pairs were found to outperform single birds, even though the more efficient bird did not necessarily assume the role of leader.

Modelling paired decision-making showed that both outcomes – compromise and leadership – could emerge from the same set of behavioural rules followed by each of the birds. In the context of mass migration of birds or other animals, the results suggest that simple self-organising rules can improve the accuracy of decision-making and thereby benefit individuals travelling in groups.

Lead author Dr Dora Biro, from the Zoology Department, said: ‘There is little empirical evidence exploring the degree to which animals in groups rely on just one or a few leaders to make decisions for them, or whether everyone’s opinion is taken into account for a group-wide compromise. Our study examined this in the context of group navigation. Our results showed that the two possibilities can in fact be seen as different outcomes of the same decision-making process, depending only on the degree of conflict between individuals. The same principles can potentially be applied to many different species of social animals, and to decision-making in a variety of contexts.’

Source: University of Oxford

Explore further: Dwindling wind may tip predator-prey balance

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Wireless sensor transmits tumor pressure

15 hours ago

The interstitial pressure inside a tumor is often remarkably high compared to normal tissues and is thought to impede the delivery of chemotherapeutic agents as well as decrease the effectiveness of radiation ...

A nanosized hydrogen generator

16 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have created a small scale "hydrogen generator" that uses light and a two-dimensional graphene platform to boost ...

Tim Cook puts personal touch on iPhone 6 launch

16 hours ago

Apple chief Tim Cook personally kicked off sales of the iPhone 6, joining in "selfies" and shaking hands with customers Friday outside the company's store near his Silicon Valley home.

Recommended for you

Dwindling wind may tip predator-prey balance

Sep 19, 2014

Bent and tossed by the wind, a field of soybean plants presents a challenge for an Asian lady beetle on the hunt for aphids. But what if the air—and the soybeans—were still?

Environmental pollutants make worms susceptible to cold

Sep 19, 2014

Some pollutants are more harmful in a cold climate than in a hot, because they affect the temperature sensitivity of certain organisms. Now researchers from Danish universities have demonstrated how this ...

Research helps steer mites from bees

Sep 19, 2014

A Simon Fraser University chemistry professor has found a way to sway mites from their damaging effects on bees that care and feed the all-important queen bee.

User comments : 0