Behavioral ecology Lab at the University of Georgia

Our research focuses on collective animal behavior

Our interests

Our lab focuses on the phenomenon ‘collective intelligence,’ the ability of groups to make better decisions than individuals. Although collective intelligence has been the subject of scientific study for over a century, we still know little the circumstances under which animals achieve higher (or indeed worse) cognitive abilities by pooling information in nature. We investigate this question using homing pigeons and acorn ants as model organisms. To understand ‘how’ collective intelligence emerges, we often develop mathematical models and computer simulations based on rich empirical data, thanks to cutting-edge GPS devices and high resolution video cameras. Our research ultimately tackles the longstanding question: why some animals make decisions as a group and some don’t. Please see ‘research‘ for more details of our ongoing research.

Organisms of Study

image of homing pigeons

Homing Pigeons (Columba livia)

Homing pigeons are well known for their ability to "home", to be able to return to their nest after traveling great distances (up to 1,000 miles!). Researchers have been looking at different types of information that they use during homing. We mainly look at how they use information from others, known as social information, when they fly as a flock. We ask questions such as: Is it better to fly in a flock or to fly solo? Is Information shared during homing? If so, how do they fly home as a flock if members have different preferred routes. We look at navigational homing routes of individual pigeons and flocks using miniature GPS devices.

image of T. curvispinosus

Acorn Ants (Temnothorax curvispinosus)

These acorn ants are native in Athens, GA. As you may have gathered from the picture, they typically live in acorns, or other nuts. During foraging and emigrating, these ants use a pair recruitment system called ‘tandem running’ and choose the best option as a colony. We ask questions such as: Does colonies always pick the best option among several using tandem-running recruitment? Do followers learn routes from leaders during tandem running? Do certain individuals recruit more than others? If so, are these hard-working recruiters use more efficient routes? Because the colony size is small (approx. 100 workers), we can track each ants by painting ants or putting tracking tags on them.

Join us. We are currently looking for graduate students and postdocs.