Personality and the collective: Bold homing pigeons occupy higher leadership ranks in flocks

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While collective movement is ecologically widespread and conveys numerous benefits on individuals, it also poses a coordination problem: who controls the group’s movements? The role that animal ‘personalities’ play in this question has recently become a focus of research interest. Although many animal groups have distributed leadership (i.e. multiple individuals influence collective decisions), studies linking personality and leadership have focused predominantly on the group’s single most influential individual. In this study, we investigate the relationship between personality and the influence of multiple leaders on collective movement using homing pigeons, Columba livia, a species known to display complex multilevel leadership hierarchies during flock flights. Our results show that more exploratory (i.e. ‘bold’) birds are more likely to occupy higher ranks in the leadership hierarchy and thus have more influence on the direction of collective movement than less exploratory (i.e. ‘shy’) birds during both free flights around their lofts and homing flights from a distant site. Our data also show that bold pigeons fly faster than shy birds during solo flights. We discuss our results in light of theories about the evolution of personality, with specific reference to the adaptive value of heterogeneity in animal groups.




Sasaki, T., Mann, R. P., Warren, K. N., Herbert, T., Wilson, T., & Biro, D. (2018). Personality and the collective: Bold homing pigeons occupy higher leadership ranks in flocks. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 373(1746).

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