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Collective foraging decision in a gregarious insect

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Group foraging by eusocial insects implies sophisticated recruitment processes that often result in collective decisions to exploit the most profitable sources. These advanced levels of cooperation, however, remain limited to a small range of species, and we still know little about the mechanisms underlying group foraging behaviours in the great mass of animals exhibiting lower levels of social complexity. In this paper, we report, for the first time in a gregarious insect, the cockroach Blattella germanica (L.), a collective foraging decision whereby the selection of food sources is reached without requiring active recruitment. Groups of cockroaches given a binary choice between identical food sources exhibited exploitation asymmetries whose amplitude increases with group size. By coupling behavioural observations to computer simulations, we demonstrate that selection of food sources relies uniquely on a retention effect of feeding individuals on newcomers without comparison between available opportunities. This self-organised pattern presents similarities with the foraging dynamics of eusocial species, thus stressing the generic dimension of collective decision-making mechanisms based on social amplification rules despite fundamental differences in recruitment processes. We hypothesise that such parsimony could apply to a wide range of species and help understand the emergence of collective behaviours in simple social systems.

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We thank C. Caillarec for having implemented the first steps of the model and F. Nassur for technical help. We are also grateful to A. Cloarec for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a grant from the French Ministry of Research and Education to M.L.

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Correspondence to Mathieu Lihoreau.

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Communicated by M. Beekman

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Lihoreau, M., Deneubourg, JL. & Rivault, C. Collective foraging decision in a gregarious insect. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 64, 1577–1587 (2010).

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