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Anim Behav. 2000 Feb;59(2):403-409.

Can a minority of informed leaders determine the foraging movements of a fish shoal?

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Département de Biologie, Université de Moncton


There is no information on whether the daily foraging movements of fish shoals are the result of chance, the collective will of all shoalmates, or the leadership of a few individuals. This study tested the latter possibility. Shoals of 12 golden shiners, Notemigonus crysoleucas, were trained to expect food around midday in one of the brightly lit corners of their tank. They displayed daily food-anticipatory activity by leaving the shady area of their tank and spending more and more time in the food corner up to the normal time of feeding. Past this normal time they remained in the shade, even on test days when no food was delivered. Most of these experienced individuals were then replaced by naïve ones. The resulting ratio of experienced:naïve fish could be 5:7, 3:9 or 1:11. On their own, naïve individuals would normally spend the whole day in the shade, but in all tests the experienced individual(s) were able to entrain these more numerous naïve fish out of the shade and into the brightly lit food corner at the right time of day. Entrainment was stronger in the 5:7 than in the 1:11 experiment. The test shoals never split up and were always led by the same fish, presumably the experienced individuals. These results indicate that in a strongly gregarious species, such as the golden shiner, a minority of informed individuals can lead a shoal to food, either through social facilitation of foraging movements or by eliciting following behaviour.


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