The legacy effects of keystone individuals on collective behaviour scale to how long they remain within a group
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The collective behaviour of social groups is often strongly influenced by one or few individuals, termed here 'keystone individuals'. We examined whether the influence of keystone individuals on collective behaviour lingers after their departure and whether these lingering effects scale with their tenure in the group. In the social spider, Stegodyphus dumicola, colonies' boldest individuals wield a disproportionately large influence over colony behaviour. We experimentally manipulated keystones' tenure in laboratory-housed colonies and tracked their legacy effects on collective prey capture following their removal. We found that bolder keystones caused more aggressive collective foraging behaviour and catalysed greater inter-individual variation in boldness within their colonies. The longer keystones remained in a colony, the longer both of these effects lingered after their departure. Our data demonstrate that, long after their disappearance, keystones have large and lasting effects on social dynamics at both the individual and colony levels.
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