Study finds life-saving trend among seagulls

February 20, 2009,

Following trends is a lifesaving instinct, at least for birds, and provides clues that can be applied across the animal kingdom. New research from Université de Montréal published in Biology Letters, shows that Herring and Ring-billed gulls not only watch their neighbours - they mimic their behaviour to assure their survival. Contrary to previous beliefs, this study suggests that animals don't necessarily act independently and that they cue on reactions from other members of their group.

"This is the first study to report how gulls copy the vigilance and awareness of other gulls during rest periods," says Guy Beauchamp, who authored the study and is a statistician in the Université de Montréal's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. "When their immediate neighbours were alert, the gulls we observed were more aware and rested less. In contrast, when the neighbours were relaxed, so were the subjects."

This behavioural mimicry may be advantageous when a predator is close. "If the surrounding group is agitated and ready to take flight, it may be beneficial to be similarly alert," says Dr. Beauchamp. "You don't want to be the last gull standing when a predator approaches."

How does this relate to humans?

Dr. Beauchamp spent the last two summers tracking and studying gull behaviour in the Bay of Fundy. He compared the activity of gulls that were sleeping relative to the alertness of their neighbours. "Gulls sleep with one eye open and constantly scan the group. Based on my observations, we know now that they are judging the level of vigilance of their peers to mimic it. This adds a new complexity to understanding animal behaviour."

Dr. Beauchamp suggests this behaviour can be extrapolated into human and other mammal populations. "The theory of a collective group awareness can be applied across the animal kingdom. Although humans don't worry about predators, they do pay attention to the behaviour of their peers. For example, they assess the value of others based on their social or physical interactions - they are looking at an individual's strengths. The animals who pay attention are the ones who gain."

More information: "Sleeping gulls monitor the vigilance behaviour of their neighbours," published in Biology letters, was authored by Guy Beauchamp (Université Montreal). www.publishing.royalsociety.or … ex.cfm?page=1566-30-

Source: University of Montreal

Explore further: 3 gulls found with jagged beer cans around necks

Related Stories

Environmentalists get rare look at island off NY

October 6, 2010

(AP) -- The classified ad might read: "Island for sale. Gem of a property, teeming with fish and wildlife, only a two-hour drive from nation's largest metro area. Features power plant, sewage treatment. Ripe for development."

Recommended for you

Scientists ID another possible threat to orcas: pink salmon

January 19, 2019

Over the years, scientists have identified dams, pollution and vessel noise as causes of the troubling decline of the Pacific Northwest's resident killer whales. Now, they may have found a new and more surprising culprit: ...

Targeting 'hidden pocket' for treatment of stroke and seizure

January 19, 2019

The ideal drug is one that only affects the exact cells and neurons it is designed to treat, without unwanted side effects. This concept is especially important when treating the delicate and complex human brain. Now, scientists ...

Technology near for real-time TV political fact checks

January 18, 2019

A Duke University team expects to have a product available for election year that will allow television networks to offer real-time fact checks onscreen when a politician makes a questionable claim during a speech or debate.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.