Public information for the assessment of quality: a widespread social phenomenon

Thomas J. Valone, Jennifer J. Templeton

Abstract

We propose that the use of public information about the quality of environmental resources, obtained by monitoring the sampling behaviour of others, may be a widespread social phenomenon allowing individuals to make faster, more accurate assessments of their environment. To demonstrate this (i) we define public information and distinguish it from other kinds of social information; (ii) we review empirical work demonstrating the benefits and costs of using public information to estimate food patch quality; (iii) we examine recent work showing that individuals may also be using public information to improve their estimates of the quality of such disparate environmental parameters as breeding patches, opponents and mates; and finally (iv) we suggest avenues of future work to better understand the nature of public information use and when it might be used or ignored. Such work should lead to a more complete understanding of the behaviour of individuals in social aggregations.

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