Proof of principle: the adaptive geometry of social foragers

Marcus J. Dostie, David Lusseau, Tyler Bonnell, Parry M.R. Clarke, George Chaplin, Stefan Kienzle, Louise Barrett, S Peter Henzi

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13 Citations (Scopus)
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The spatial configuration of a group of animals should reflect the ability of its members to respond to environmental contingencies. Under predation risk, the optimal position for an individual in a stationary group is at the group's centre. The resulting group geometry is circular, with individual placement determined by competitive ability. Where it compromises efficient foraging, a long-standing question has been whether this topology can deform adaptively in response to the local distribution of resources. Here we show that the shape described by a group of foraging chacma baboons, Papio hamadryas ursinus, changes in response to habitat structure and that this promotes foraging efficiency while conserving the predation-risk-related distribution of group members. Adult baboons improve unimpeded access to the small, dispersed food items found in grassland by adjusting both their interindividual distances and their relative positions along the line of movement in order to forage in rank formation. Dominant animals occupy the centre of the group and do so regardless of its geometry. Our results demonstrate that spatially explicit data can address emergent group level properties directly. This global approach complements analyses of individual action and can help direct the search for potential local rules of interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-178
Number of pages6
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date9 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016

Bibliographical note

We thank Cape Nature for permission to undertake the study. We thank Dr Matt Grove and two anonymous referees for comments and suggestions that improved the manuscript substantially. This research was funded by grants from the Leakey Foundation, National Science and Engineering Research Council, Canada to S.P.H. and L.B., and by the National Research Foundation, South Africa to S.P.H. His co-authors dedicate this paper to the memory of P.M.R.C. The authors declare no competing interests.


  • collective action
  • Papio hamadryas
  • predation risk
  • selfish herd
  • spatial structure


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