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Informed horses are influential in group movements, but they may avoid leading

Abstract

In species that move in cohesive groups, animals generally reach decisions through socially distributed processes, and individual knowledge is expected to influence collective decision making. Pooling of information should not be considered a general rule, however, since conflicts of interest may occur between group members. When resources are limited or highly attractive, higher-ranking individuals can prevent others from accessing food, and subordinates may have an interest in withholding information about its location. We investigated the role individual knowledge may play in recruitment processes in four groups of horses (Equus caballus). Animals were repeatedly released in a food search situation, in which one individual had been informed about the location of a preferred food, while another was a naïve control subject. Horses that were informed about the location of the feeding site were seen to approach the food source more steadily and were followed by a higher number of group members than their uninformed counterparts. Recruitment processes appeared mostly passive. Among the informed subjects, lower-ranking individuals were overall less followed than the higher-ranking ones. Most lower-ranking horses arrived alone at the feeding site. Non-followed informed subjects spent less time in active walk and used direct paths less frequently than followed animals, and they were joined by fewer partners at the attractive food source and spent more time feeding alone. This indicates that the influence of informed individuals on the behavior of other group members was a mixed process. Some horses brought nutritional benefits to their conspecifics by leading them to food supplies, whereas the behavior of others might be functionally deceptive.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Louis Menier and l’Élevage Kergane (Saint-Brieuc-de-Mauron) as well as Martine Clerc and Mireille Dumond at the Écurie Terre d’Illich (Mériadec, Plumergat) for their logistical and practical support. We are grateful to Hélène Thieltges for her valuable assistance in experiments. The study benefited from financial support from the Groupement de Recherche d’Ethologie (GDR 2822). The experiments complied with the current French laws governing animal research.

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Correspondence to Bernard Thierry.

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Andrieu, J., Henry, S., Hausberger, M. et al. Informed horses are influential in group movements, but they may avoid leading. Anim Cogn 19, 451–458 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-015-0945-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-015-0945-2

Keywords

  • Information
  • Deception
  • Recruitment
  • Collective movement
  • Social cognition
  • Equus caballus