ANIMAL BEHAVIOR

6 Heads Are Better than 2

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Science  15 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5929, pp. 857
DOI: 10.1126/science.324_857c
CREDIT: JUPITERIMAGES

A study of the gregarious house sparrow suggests that individuals in larger groups are swifter at solving new problems than those in smaller groups—findings that add a behavioral dimension to the ecological costs and benefits of group living. Using wild-caught birds that were then acclimatized to experimental aviaries, Liker and Bókony investigated whether group size affected the success rate at which birds figured out how to obtain seeds from a familiar feeder when access was blocked with a transparent lid. The larger groups, which contained six birds, were able to dislodge the lids roughly 10 times as quickly as smaller groups of two birds—a pattern that was consistent across all individuals in the groups. Also, birds from urban environments were faster than birds from rural backgrounds. Increased success at problem-solving in larger groups may reflect a wider diversity of experience and skill among the individuals in the group and may constitute an adaptive advantage in complex habitats.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 106, 10.1073/pnas.0900042106 (2009).

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