Date: September 14, 2016
Source: Oxford University
Flock leaders who attempt to give their fellow pigeons incorrect information about their direction of travel can be overruled by the collective wisdom of the group, according to new research from the University of Oxford.
Recent modelling work has predicted that the mistakes of a misinformed leader will propagate down a hierarchical decision-making system such as a pigeon flock. However, using a method known as 'clock-shifting' that interferes with pigeons' sense of direction, researchers have shown that bad leadership can be overcome, setting the flock back on the correct course.
Research from the same group at Oxford has previously found that the fastest pigeons tend to become flock leaders, rather than the most competent.
The new study is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
Lead author Isobel Watts, a doctoral candidate in the Oxford Navigation Group in the University's Department of Zoology, said: 'Previous research in homing pigeons has identified a navigational leadership hierarchy where an individual's position in the hierarchy reflects its weight of contribution in the decision-making process. In this study, we were interested in how much control the "top" bird actually has over the flock's decisions during homing. Do the top leader's decisions simply cascade down the hierarchy, or are lower-ranked birds also able to influence the direction in which the flock flies? By manipulating the quality of the leader's information, we hoped to discover whether a poorly informed leader was still allowed to lead or whether the flock would "overrule" inaccurate leadership.'