Group decision-making in animal societies

  • Gerald Kerth


Individuals need to coordinate their activities to benefit from group living. Thus group decisions are essential for societies, especially if group members cooperate with each other. Models show that shared (democratic) decisions outperform unshared (despotic) decisions, even if individuals disagree about actions. This is surprising as in most other contexts, differences in individual preferences lead to sex-, age-, or kin-specific behaviour. Empirical studies testing the predictions of the theoretical models have only recently begun to emerge. This applies particularly to group decisions in fission-fusion societies, where individuals can avoid decisions that are not in their interest. After outlining the basic ideas and theoretical models on group decision-making I focus on the available empirical studies. Originally most of the relevant studies have been on social insects and fish but recently an increasing number of studies on mammals and birds have been published, including some that deal with wild long-lived animals living in complex societies. This includes societies where group members have different interests, as in most mammals, and which have been less studied compared to eusocial insects that normally have no conflict among their colony members about what to do. I investigate whether the same decision rules apply in societies with conflict and without conflict, and outline open questions that remain to be studied. The chapter concludes with a synthesis on what is known about group decision-making in animals and an outlook on what I think should be done to answer the open questions.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald Kerth
    • 1
  1. 1.Animal Behaviour, Institute of ZoologyUniversity of ZurichZürichSwitzerland

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