Personality composition is more important than group size in determining collective foraging behaviour in the wild
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Describing the factors that shape collective behaviour is central to our understanding of animal societies. Countless studies have demonstrated an effect of group size in the emergence of collective behaviours, but comparatively few have accounted for the composition/diversity of behavioural phenotypes, which is often conflated with group size. Here, we simultaneously examine the effect of personality composition and group size on nest architecture and collective foraging aggressiveness in the social spider Stegodyphus dumicola. We created colonies of two different sizes (10 or 30 individuals) and four compositions of boldness (all bold, all shy, mixed bold and shy, or average individuals) in the field and then measured their collective behaviour. Larger colonies produced bigger capture webs, while colonies containing a higher proportion of bold individuals responded to and attacked prey more rapidly. The number of attackers during collective foraging was determined jointly by composition and size, although composition had an effect size more than twice that of colony size: our results suggest that colonies of just 10 bold spiders would attack prey with as many attackers as colonies of 110 'average' spiders. Thus, personality composition is a more potent (albeit more cryptic) determinant of collective foraging in these societies.
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