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Nat Commun. 2017 Apr 18;8:15049. doi: 10.1038/ncomms15049.

Cumulative culture can emerge from collective intelligence in animal groups.

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Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK.


Studies of collective intelligence in animal groups typically overlook potential improvement through learning. Although knowledge accumulation is recognized as a major advantage of group living within the framework of Cumulative Cultural Evolution (CCE), the interplay between CCE and collective intelligence has remained unexplored. Here, we use homing pigeons to investigate whether the repeated removal and replacement of individuals in experimental groups (a key method in testing for CCE) alters the groups' solution efficiency over successive generations. Homing performance improves continuously over generations, and later-generation groups eventually outperform both solo individuals and fixed-membership groups. Homing routes are more similar in consecutive generations within the same chains than between chains, indicating cross-generational knowledge transfer. Our findings thus show that collective intelligence in animal groups can accumulate progressive modifications over time. Furthermore, our results satisfy the main criteria for CCE and suggest potential mechanisms for CCE that do not rely on complex cognition.

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