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Birds that form surprisingly complex societies

Natalie Parletta writes:

The gregarious, small-brained vulturine guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum) forms complex, multi-level societies, according to new research.

Published in the journal Current Biology, it challenges previous notions that only animals with large brains – such as humans, primates, elephants, giraffes and dolphins – are capable of such social structures.

Lead investigator Damien Farine, from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour in Konstanz, Germany, says he was curious to know how groups of animals resolve conflicts and make collective social decisions.

While doing field work in Kenya, he found the vulturine guineafowls presented an ideal opportunity to explore this, as there were many clusters that moved together and were large enough to fit with tracking devices.

So he joined forces with Danai Papageorgiou, the study’s lead author, who established how to trap them, and their team attached individual combinations of colours onto more than 400 birds’ legs to track their group membership.

“Over the course of a year, we then captured what, I believe, is the most complete picture of the social structure in a complex animal society ever – at least in the wild,” says Farine.

They continuously observed the same individuals sticking together, forming 18 distinct social groups with highly stable membership. Yet, Farine says, the birds didn’t demonstrate territorial behaviour – “instead, groups would often encounter each other, move together, and sleep together at night”. [Continue reading…]

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