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Decision-making in group departures of female domestic geese

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Group-living animals have to make trade-offs to reach consensus and travel together. We investigated the recruitment processes underpinning decision-making at departure in a group of 20 female domestic geese (Anser domesticus) kept in semi-free-range conditions. Two observers continuously videotaped the behaviours of the birds. Data were analyzed using multiple regression analyses. We found that decision-making was a continuous and distributed process. Departure was preceded by an increase in the arousal state of group members and their initial orientation influenced recruitment. Patterns of group movement could be predicted from the behaviours of individuals before departure. Individuals' locations, moves and signals could act as passive or communicative cues. A higher number of vocalisations and arousal behaviours led to a larger number of individuals recruited. Some individuals were more efficient than others in recruiting followers but any geese could initiate a movement. First movers recruited a higher number of mates when they had a greater number of neighbours. Not only the first mover but also the behaviours of the second and third movers prompted further individuals to follow. There was no evidence that geese were able to intentionally recruit others, rather they synchronized and adjusted each other's motives until reaching a consensus.

Affiliations: 1: Département Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie, IPHC, Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique, Université de Strasbourg, 23 rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasbourg, France

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