Collective learning in the homing pigeon Columba livia

Wednesday, January 30, 2019
12:00 PM - 1:15 PM
ECA A101

Abstract: Studies of collective decision making in animal groups typically focus on one-off or short-term performance and overlook potential improvement over time. In this talk, I will focus on how animal groups can achieve higher performance by facing the same tasks repeatedly, namely 'collective learning', using homing pigeons, Columba livia, as a model system. Homing pigeons have proved valuable in studies of collective decision making; previous work using miniature global positioning system (GPS) tracking has revealed that both individual birds and flocks develop idiosyncratic homing routes over time and, once developed, recapitulate them faithfully. Furthermore, during flock flights, naive birds can socially acquire information on homing routes from experienced flock-mates. These features allowed me to directly compare performance of individual learning and collective learning and investigate the underlying mechanisms of collective learning. I empirically tested 1) if group decisions are influenced by past experiences and improve progressively, a phenomenon know as cumulative cultural evolution and 2) if groups combine 'opinions' of individuals and improve their decisions, known as the 'many-wrongs' principle. Finally, I will talk about my future research direction: investigating how individuals acquire, retain and retrieve information collectively and how collective learning is different from social learning. I argue that collective learning is a major - but hitherto greatly overlooked - benefit of collective living.

Dr. Sasaki is an Assistant Professor, Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia. Takao is an alumnus of Arizona State University having earned his Biology Phd and Applied Psychology MS [2006-2013]. He is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow, Zoology Department, Oxford University.   His research interest focus on collective learning.