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Title: Keeping it together : the effect of familiarity, personality, and active interactions on group coordination
Author: Riley, Riva Jyoti
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Group coordination is a universal feature of social life. Animals form social groups for a variety of reasons, including predator evasion and more efficient foraging, and individuals living in social groups must coordinate their activities in order for groups to function. Consequently, the factors that facilitate or impede group coordination are of great interest in understanding the lives of social animals. Familiarity between individuals has well-documented effects on group coordination, with familiar groups outperforming unfamiliar ones in predator evasion, foraging, and cohesion. Individuals also generally prefer to coordinate with familiar conspecifics over unfamiliar ones. Despite these advantages, the mechanisms through which familiarity might aid group coordination are poorly understood. Similarly, the individual personalities of group members have well-documented effects on group performance: bold individuals are more likely to be 'leaders' and determine the direction of group movements, and groups comprised of individuals of differing personalities outperform groups of all bold or all shy individuals. While the effect of individual personalities on group behaviour has been recorded extensively, the ways in which individuals affect each other's behaviour are still poorly documented. In particular, active interactions where one individual can directly affect the behaviour of others have received limited attention, as it is difficult to distinguish such actions from passive effects. I used two systems to investigate how individual behaviours can lead to group coordination. In three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus), well-established boldness assays allowed me to assess the effects of personality and familiarity on 1) coordination between pairs of fish; I found that individuals in unfamiliar pairs exhibited coordination patterns consistent with their individual personalities, with bold individuals more likely to leave cover independently, while in familiar pairs, individuals behaved in ways seemingly unrelated to their boldness scores. I also investigated how personality and familiarity affect 2) group coordination and individual performance in a problem-solving paradigm. I found that familiarity, relative individual personality, and group mean personality interact to affect individual foraging success, and that group cohesion was affected by the interaction of group familiarity and group mean personality. These results suggest that individual characteristics can impact the behaviour of groups, and that the characteristics of an individual's group can in turn affect an individual's behaviour and success. In the Bronze Cory catfish (Corydoras aeneus), I described a novel tactile interaction style termed 'nudging' that individuals use during group coordination. I investigated 3) the effect of familiarity on nudging and coordination in pairs and triplets. These results show that nudging can be used to overcome the disadvantages of familiarity, which has important implications for how communication can underlie group coordination in the absence of familiarity. I then investigated how 4) nudging affects group coordination following a flight response to a potential threat. I demonstrated that nudging leads to a higher likelihood of group cohesion and longer group flight times. This shows how active interactions can mediate group responses and affect the ecologically relevant scenario of predator evasion. Finally, I investigated 5) the development of this nudging behaviour. My results show that Bronze Cory catfish larvae develop toleration for tactile stimulation with age alongside their propensity to nudge conspecifics. This suggests that Bronze Cory catfish larvae require social feedback to develop appropriate responses to nudges from conspecifics and supports the important role of nudging in Bronze Cory catfish sociality. The presence of active interactions in the Bronze Cory catfish` modifies the way that social behaviour manifests in this species and has great potential for further questions about social behaviour and group functioning.
Supervisor: Manica, Andrea Sponsor: Herchel Smith Scholarship in Science
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Social behaviour ; familiarity ; group coordination