Wait, what? Bison?
Turns out, it’s true. Just like our democratic process established in the Constitution, bison also make decisions via popular opinion. They do forego the whole electoral college process, though.
A new study published in Animal Behaviour examined a herd of bison in France and found that individuals cast a “vote” by turning their bodies toward the desired destination. If a meadow of delectable grass is off to the east, certain individuals will turn and face it. At the same time, if dissenters would rather head to security cover to the west, they will likewise turn that direction. Mature females are usually the leaders and get the most followers.
After they cast their ballots, one individual begins the movement. If the initiator is from the majority, the entire herd follows. However, if the first animal to move comes from the minority opinion, then the herd may split up temporarily. Sort of a Boston Tea Party movement.
This is neat. However, beyond the “gee whiz” affect, it could be useful information. Bison are large animals that are difficult to control and commonly cause damage to ranchers (long video below). If biologists could stimulate the “leaders” of the herd to move away from agricultural lands, for instance, they wouldn’t have to control the entire herd.
Interestingly, many other species display some sort of collective decision-making. Mammals, birds, insects, and even fish! This makes evolutionary sense, because sharing the decision-making responsibility is typically beneficial to social animals (here’s a scientific paper that you won’t want to read). Pretty cool.