Leadership can play an important role of a population dynamics, but is it the strength of the leaders or the willingness of the followers that has more influence? (Image Credit: Bernard Dupont, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Selection for Collective Aggressiveness Favors Social Susceptibility in Social Spiders (2018) Pruitt et al., Current Biology, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.11.038.
Socially-influential leaders can have a large effect on the actions of any group. Think of that one person in your life that everyone looks to when it’s time to make a decision; whether it’s something trivial like where to go for dinner, or something more important like whether or not to take that job on the other side of the country, these individuals make a large impact in their social circles. This can also be seen in the natural world, like the alpha of a wolf pack, or the matriarchs of an elephant troop or an orca pod. These focal individuals greatly influence the actions and success of their groups.
In order to determine not only how important these influential individuals are, but also how much the “social susceptibility” of the followers matters, the researchers in this paper used a species of social spider in two different habitat types. By using both arid and wet environments and analyzing both sides of the influence coin, this study was able to accurately determine the importance of both influencing and being influenced in different ecosystems.