CIE Spotlight: Leaders benefit followers in the collective movement of a social sawfly

Matthew S.
Matthew S.

TitleLeaders benefit followers in the collective movement of a social sawfly

Authors: Hodgkin, L. K.; Symonds, M. R. E.; Elgar, M. A.


Brief summary of the paper: The challenges of maintaining cohesion while making collective decisions in social or aggregating insects can result in the emergence of a leader or leaders.

Larval aggregations of the steel-blue sawfly Perga affinis forage nocturnally, and some larvae lead the aggregation on foraging trips more often than expected by chance. We investigated the relationship between these leader and follower roles by comparing the weight and growth of individual larvae with different roles.

Our observations reveal no significant difference between the growth of leaders and followers, suggesting that the role of leadership may not provide direct foraging benefits. However, by experimentally manipulating the social structure of larval aggregations, we found that individuals within aggregations that comprise a mixture of leaders and followers enjoy higher growth rates than those in aggregations comprising a single behavioural type.

These data demonstrate, for the first time, individual benefits to maintaining a balance of leader and follower roles within larval aggregations, and highlight the importance of considering the perspectives of both leaders and followers when investigating the evolutionary significance of this behavioural variation within animal groups.