Leading from the front? Social networks in navigating groups
In many group-living animals, leadership by only a fraction of the group members can be important for group navigation. It has been shown that subgroups of informed individuals can steer the remainder of the group without direct communication, resolving conflicts of interest through individual-to-individual interactions. We present a model for the navigation of collectively moving groups that includes preferential interactions between individuals as a way of imposing social network structures, known to be present in many species. We show that effective leadership can occur when leaders do not occupy frontal spatial positions and when navigation tendency is appropriately balanced with social position. Our model also shows that small minorities can dominate movement decisions if they have navigational knowledge combined with influential social network positions. Our findings highlight the mechanistic importance of social networks for the movement decisions of animal groups. We discuss the implications of our research for interpreting empirical observations.