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Title: Collective decision-making in homing pigeon navigation
Author: Flack, Andrea
ISNI:       0000 0004 2747 2155
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis focuses on conflict resolution and collective decision-making in co-navigating pigeons, Columba livia. These birds have a remarkable homing ability and frequently fly in flocks. Group navigation demands that group members reach consensus on which path to follow, but the mechanisms by which they do so remain largely unexplored. Pigeons are particularly suitable for studying these mechanisms, due to their sociality and the fact that their possession of information can easily be altered and quantified. I present the results of a series of experiments that manipulated the experience of homing pigeons in various ways so as to observe the effect of information they had previously gathered on their group behaviour. Key findings were: Previous navigational experience contributes to the establishment of leader-follower relationships. The larger the difference in experience between two co-navigating pigeons, the higher the likelihood the more experienced bird will emerge as leader. Shared homing experience through repeated joint flights can allow two pigeons to develop into a “behavioural unit”. They form spatial sub-groups when flying with less familiar birds, and perform a similar transition between compromise- and leadership-dominated flights as single birds, although they are more likely to accept compromise routes. Such previous association histories between birds can thus affect collective decision-making in larger flocks. There is a trade-off between the amount of spatial information handled and the efficiency with which such information can be applied during homing. Leading/following behaviour is influenced by the recency of the route memories. Leadership hierarchies in pigeon flocks appear resistant to changes in the navigational knowledge of a subset of their members, at least when these changes are relatively small in magnitude. The stability of the hierarchical structure might be beneficial during decision-making. Mathematical modelling suggests that underlying hierarchical social structures can increase navigational accuracy. Hierarchically organised groups with the smallest number of strong connections achieve highest accuracy. Group leader-follower dynamics resemble the underlying social structure.
Supervisor: Biro, Dora Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Behaviour (zoology) ; Zoological sciences ; Biology ; Life Sciences ; animal behaviour ; homing pigeon ; social navigation ; decision-making