Mid-sized groups perform best in a collective decision task in sticklebacks

Ashley J. W. Ward, Michael M. Webster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Numerous studies have reported functional improvements in collective behaviour with increasing group size, however, the possibility that such improvements may saturate or even decline as group size continues to grow have seldom been tested experimentally. Here, we tested the ability of solitary three-spined sticklebacks and those in groups, ranging from 2 to 29 fish, to leave an unfavourable patch of habitat. Our results replicate the findings of previous studies at low group sizes, with the fish initially showing a reduction in their latency to leave the unfavourable habitat as group size increased. As group size continued to increase, however, latency to leave the habitat increased, so that the functional relationship between group size and latency to depart was U-shaped. Our results suggest an optimum group size in this context of between 12 and 20 fish. Underlying this group-level trend was a similar U-shaped relationship between group size and the first fish to leave the habitat, suggesting that at larger group sizes, social conformity to the behaviour of the majority can stifle the ability of fish to innovate-in this case, to induce a collective movement from the unfavourable habitat.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190335
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2019


  • Grouping
  • Schooling
  • Shoaling
  • Sociality
  • Swarm intelligence


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