Nine-spined sticklebacks exploit the most reliable source when public and private information conflict
Social foragers can potentially use private information gained from personal experience and public information gained from observing the foraging success of others to determine the profitability of a foraging patch. We investigated how nine–spined sticklebacks use conflicting public and private information of variable reliability to make foraging decisions. In a first experiment, when private information was reliable, sticklebacks ignored public information and based their foraging decision on private information. However, when private information was less reliable, sticklebacks tended to use public rather than private information. A second experiment investigated how the time since experiencing private information affected sticklebacks’ use of this information when it conflicted with recent public information. Fish based their foraging decisions on recently acquired private information, but reliance on private information diminished as the period since experiencing it increased. Fish used public information if 7 days had elapsed since updating their private information. Our findings suggest that nine–spined sticklebacks flexibly adjust their decision making to exploit the most reliable information available, be it public or private, and that animals will weight private and public information appropriately depending on circumstances.