Information sharing is a critical task for group-living animals. The pattern of sharing can be modeled as a network whose structure can affect the decision-making performance of individual members as well as that of the group as a whole. A fully connected network, in which each member can directly transfer information to all other members, ensures rapid sharing of important information, such as a promising foraging location. However, it can also impose costs by amplifying the spread of inaccurate information (if, for example the foraging location is actually not profitable). Thus, an optimal network structure should balance effective sharing of current knowledge with opportunities to discover new information. We used a computer simulation to measure how well groups characterized by different network structures (fully connected, small world, lattice, and random) find and exploit resource peaks in a variable environment. We found that a fully connected network outperformed other structures when resource quality was predictable. When resource quality showed random variation, however, the small world network was better than the fully connected one at avoiding extremely poor outcomes. These results suggest that animal groups may benefit by adjusting their information-sharing network structures depending on the noisiness of their environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-214
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Zoology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2016


  • Agent-based model
  • Collective cognition
  • Conformity
  • Small world networks
  • Speed-accuracy trade-off

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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