Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 5, pp 797–809 | Cite as

Social information, conformity and the opportunity costs paid by foraging fish

  • M. M. Webster
  • K. N. Laland
Original Paper


Animals pay opportunity costs when pursuing one of several mutually exclusive courses of action. We quantified the opportunity costs of conforming to the behaviour of others in foraging sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius), using an arena in which they were given the option of shoaling in one area or searching for food in another. Fish foraging in the absence of stimulus conspecifics found the prey patch sooner and spent longer exploiting it than those in trials where a stimulus shoal was present. Furthermore, in trials where the stimulus shoal exhibited feeding cues, subjects approached them sooner and spent more time shoaling with them, exploring less of the arena than in trials where the stimulus shoal exhibited no such cues. This suggests sensitivity not only to the mere presence of conspecifics, but also to the social information that they produce. We also saw that groups of focal fish, compared to single individuals, were less influenced by the stimulus shoal and explored more of the arena, a behaviour that may be attributed to facilitation, competition or both. Such opportunity costs are likely to be offset by benefits such as reduced predation risk, and we discuss this in terms of the trade-offs associated with living in groups.


Costly information Diffusion Public information Social cue Social facilitation Social learning 



This work was funded by a European Research Council advanced grant (EVOCULTURE 232823) to KNL. We thank Ashley Ward for helpful discussion.

Ethical standards

The experiments described in the article were performed in accordance with the current laws of the UK.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of BiologyUniversity of St AndrewsFifeUK

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