News Round-Up

Alpha animals must bow to the majority when they abuse their power


Many animal groups decide where to go by a process similar to voting, allowing not only alphas to decide where the group goes next but giving equal say to all group members. But, for many species that live in stable groups – such as in primates and birds – the dominant, or alpha, group members often monopolise resources, such as the richest food patches and access to mates. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour and the Cluster of Excellence Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz have studied the links between dominance and group decision-making in wild vulturine guineafowl. They report that democratic decision-making plays an essential role in mitigating the power of alphas by deciding where to move next if those alphas are monopolising resources.

Vulturine guineafowl are large birds native to savannahs of East Africa. They are the first bird species to have been reported to live in a multilevel society where social groups comprising from 15 to more than 60 individuals interact preferentially with other social groups. Within these large groups, there is a clear dominance hierarchy. Like in wolves and primates, the dominant, or alpha, group members can outcompete other group members and exclude them from food. MORE

Header image: Vulturine guineafowl occur in the savannahs of Kenya. The birds live in groups, with a strict dominance hierarchy. Credit: © Danai Papageorgiou.