Quorum decision making coordinates group departure decisions in Eurasian oystercatchers, Haematopus ostralegus

Leah Gray*, Mike M. Webster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Prey species that form groups gain a range of benefits from associating with conspecifics, including access to social information. Groups typically coordinate collective movement through local interactions, where individuals copy their nearest neighbours' behaviour to generate group level decisions. However, individuals in a group may not always make ‘correct’ decisions, and blind copying of behaviour can lead to the spread of poor information and maladaptive cascades. To impede the spread of poor information, many animals that form groups have developed information-dampening mechanisms such as consensus decision making through the quorum response. In this study we monitored flocks of roosting Eurasian oystercatchers with a view to understanding the mechanics of group departure decisions and to test for the presence of a quorum response. Nearing high tide, oystercatchers would leave the roosting site en masse, where the timing of departure of many individuals was coordinated. Coordinating the timing of mass departures was a complex task as single birds and small groups frequently joined and departed from the roosting site, meaning individuals had to decide which departures to copy and which to ignore. Individual oystercatchers were more likely to depart within 10s of another bird if they were closer together in the group, suggesting that departure information may be transferred locally between neighbouring birds. While single departures were very common, most individuals departed in groups of 10 or more, showing that single departures were a relatively weak departure cue and were frequently ignored by the rest of the group. The probability of an individual joining a departure event was higher with increasing departure group size in a nonlinear (sigmoidal) relationship. This trend is consistent with a quorum response with the propensity to copy the departure of groupmates sharply increasing at a quorum threshold of about 10 birds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-38
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Volume202
Early online date15 Jun 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2023

Keywords

  • Consensus decision making
  • Flock
  • Quorum response
  • Social information

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