Study suggests fish ‘pool’ experiences to solve problems19/04/17Science & Technology
According to new research fish pool their experience to solve problems collectively.
Scientists at St Andrews University, Scotland, found that while they might only have a little bit of information about their environment, in a group, different animals might have separate but complementary information about a particular problem.
In a set of experiments, scientists at the university’s school of biology set out to determine whether leadership could allow groups of animals to pool their experience in order to solve problems collectively.
Dr Mike Webster, of St Andrews University, said: “To tackle this question we presented shoals of stickleback fish with a two-part problem, in which they had to first find, and then access, some hidden food.
“Individual fish were either inexperienced or had experience of just one of the stages.
“We found that in shoals that comprised individuals trained in each of the stages more fish did indeed access the food, and did so more rapidly, compared with other shoal composition which only contained fish trained to one or to neither of two parts of the problem.
“Supporting our idea that leadership played a role in this, we found strong effects of having experienced members in the group, with the presence of these greatly increasing the likelihood of untrained fish completing each part of the problem.”
Researchers have known that larger groups tend to outperform smaller groups and lone individuals when completing certain tasks.
Professor Kevin Laland, also of St Andrews University, added: “There may be lessons to be learned for human behaviour too.
“Businesses and institutions already make good use of teams with diverse skills sets, and the natural world might provide further inspiration for how these groups might be put together and organised.”
Their findings are published on the Nature Ecology & Evolution website.