Group-living animals that rely on stable foraging or migratory routes can develop behavioural traditions to pass route information down to inexperienced individuals. Striking a balance between exploitation of social information and exploration for better alternatives is essen-tial to prevent the spread of maladaptive traditions. We investigated this balance during cumulative route development in the homing pigeon Columba livia. We quantified information transfer within pairs of birds in a transmission-chain experiment and determined how birds with different levels of experience contributed to the exploration–exploitation trade-off. Newly introduced naïve individuals were initially more likely to initiate exploration than experienced birds, but the pair soon settled into a pattern of alternating leadership with both birds contributing equally. Experimental pairs showed an oscillating pattern of exploration over generations that might facilitate the discovery of more efficient routes. Our results introduce a new perspective on the roles of leadership and information pooling in the context of collective learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere68653
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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