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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Nov 7;273(1602):2785-90.

Group decision making in fission-fusion societies: evidence from two-field experiments in Bechstein's bats.

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Zoologisches Institut, Universität Zürich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zürich, Switzerland.


Group decisions are required when group coordination is beneficial, but individuals can choose between alternatives. Despite the increased interest in animal group decision making, there is a lack of experimental field studies that investigate how animals with conflicting information make group decisions. In particular, no field studies have considered the influence of fission-fusion behaviour (temporary splitting into subgroups) on group decisions. We studied group decision making in two wild Bechstein's bat colonies, which are fission-fusion societies of stable individual composition. Since they frequently switch communal roosts, colony members must regularly make group decisions over where to roost. In the two-field experiments, we provided marked individuals with conflicting information about the suitability of potential roosts. We investigated whether conflicting information led to group decisions that followed a 'unanimous' or a 'majority' rule, or increased colony fission. Individual behaviour suggests that bats considered both their own information and the behaviour of others when deciding where to roost. Group decisions about communal roosts reflected the information available to a majority of the bats roosting together, but conflicting information led to an increased fission in one colony. Our results suggest that fission-fusion societies allow individuals to avoid majority decisions that are not in their favour.

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