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Ecol Lett. 2015 Aug;18(8):799-806. doi: 10.1111/ele.12457. Epub 2015 May 25.

To follow or not? How animals in fusion-fission societies handle conflicting information during group decision-making.

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Département de Biologie and Centre d'Étude de la Forêt, Université Laval, 1045 avenue de la Médecine, Québec, Québec, G1V 0A6, Canada.


When group members possess differing information about the environment, they may disagree on the best movement decision. Such conflicts result in group break-ups, and are therefore a fundamental driver of fusion-fission group dynamics. Yet, a paucity of empirical work hampers our understanding of how adaptive evolution has shaped plasticity in collective behaviours that promote and maintain fusion-fission dynamics. Using movement data from GPS-collared bison, we found that individuals constantly associated with other animals possessing different spatial knowledge, and both personal and conspecific information influenced an individual's patch choice decisions. During conflict situations, bison used group familiarity coupled with their knowledge of local foraging options and recently sampled resource quality when deciding to follow or leave a group - a tactic that led to energy-rewarding movements. Natural selection has shaped collective behaviours for coping with social conflicts and resource heterogeneity, which maintain fusion-fission dynamics and play an essential role in animal distribution.


Animal distribution; Bison bison; Prince Albert National Park; collective decision-making; fusion-fission society; group dynamics; habitat selection; site fidelity; spatial memory; step selection function

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