LK HodgkinMRE Symonds, MA Elgar (2017) Leadership through knowledge and experience in a social sawfly. Animal Behaviour 134: 177-181 – LINK (link works until January 2018).

What’s it about?

Perga affinis sawflies (also known as spitfires), which live together in social groups on the trunks of gum trees, have interesting leadership dynamics. They have identifiable leaders that instigate group movements. Through some devious manipulations where we places leaders and followers in different groups,  we show that what determines the maintenance of leadership is a combination of both familiarity with the tree on which they are on (knowledge) and previous experience (whether they were previously leaders). Leaders moved to a different tree stop being leaders, but leaders, even with a new group of unfamiliar individuals, continue being leaders if they are kept on a familiar individuals. Followers do not automatically become leaders though if they are kept on a familiar tree.

What’s the story behind it?

This is the second paper from former PhD-student Lisa Hodgkin’s thesis. It’s been a while since the first was published, and this reflects two things: one, a whole string of rejections from journals and two, Lisa having other things to do with her life. But the results here are fascinating as they show evidence of quite complicated leadership dynamics, and dynamic that are not dissimilar from humans, in a fundamentally very basic animal society (although these are Hymenopterans, they are not eusocial). It makes all those nights of sitting in a freezing gum plantation on Philip Island worthwhile (perhaps). I did one night of field work with Lisa and probably spent the entire time complaining about how cold I was. Some kind of leader.


One response »

  1. […] behaviour PhD thesis accepted for publication in Animal Behaviour. You can read more about it here. Excellent work Lisa, and a really fascinating […]

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