Date: June 9, 2015
Source: University of Oxford
Summary: Having a hierarchical social structure with just a few well-connected leaders enables pigeon flocks to navigate more accurately on the wing, new research shows.
Hierarchical organisation also enables flocks to cope better with navigation errors made by individual birds.
Researchers from Oxford University and the Zoological Society of London created 'virtual flocks' of homing pigeons to test how different social networks affect the navigation performance of these groups. The team's simulations looked at everything from no networks (all connections between individuals were of equal strength) to random networks (some connections were stronger than others but randomly distributed) to hierarchical networks with just a few well-connected individuals leading the way.
Flocks in which each individual follows just a single other bird, allowing information to rapidly pass down this 'chain of command', perform best at navigating accurately to a desired location, the study suggests.