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Fish pool their experience to solve problems collectively

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Access to information is a key advantage of grouping. While experienced animals can lead others to solve problems, less is known about whether partially informed individuals can pool experiences to overcome challenges collectively. Here we provide evidence of such ‘experience-pooling’. We presented shoals of sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) with a two-stage foraging task requiring them to find and access hidden food. Individual fish were either inexperienced, or had knowledge of just one of the stages. Shoals comprising individuals trained in each of the stages pooled their expertise, allowing more fish to access the food, and to do so more rapidly, compared to other shoal compositions. Strong social effects were identified- the presence of experienced individuals increased the likelihood of untrained fish completing each stage. These findings demonstrate that animal groups can integrate individual experience to solve multi-stage problems, and have significant implications our understanding of social foraging, migration, and social systems.


Original languageEnglish
Article number0135
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - 18 Apr 2017

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