The relative contribution of acoustic signals versus movement cues in group coordination and collective decision-making

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Chun-Chieh Liao , Robert D. Magrath, Marta B Manser, Damien R. Farine


To benefit from group living, individuals need to maintain cohesion and coordinate their activities. Effective communication thus becomes critical, facilitating rapid coordination of behaviours and reducing consensus costs when group members have differing needs and information. In many bird and mammal species, collective decisions rely on acoustic signals in some contexts but on movement cues in others. Yet, to date there is no clear conceptual framework that predicts when decisions should evolve to be based on acoustic signals versus movement cues. Here, we first review how acoustic signals and movement cues are used for coordinating activities. We then outline how information masking, discrimination ability (Weber’s Law), and encoding limitations, as well as trade-offs between these, can identify which types of collective behaviours likely rely on acoustic signals or movement cues. Specifically, our framework proposes that behaviours involving the timing of events or expression of specific actions should rely more on acoustic signals, whereas decisions involving complex choices with multiple options (e.g. direction, destination) should generally use movement cues because sounds are more vulnerable to information masking and Weber’s Law effects. We then discuss potential future avenues, including multimodal communication and collective decision-making by mixed-species animal groups.



Behavior and Ethology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Life Sciences


collective behaviour, group cohesion, movement, quorum, vocalisation


Published: 2024-01-30 20:30

Last Updated: 2024-05-21 16:15

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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