Social information leads to suboptimal choices in an insect model, Drosophila melanogaster (#514)
Typically, social learning is considered to be a profitable behavior, enabling animals to acquire useful information more efficiently whilst circumventing the costs associated with individual learning. Yet, blindly copying others is not always an appropriate strategy, particularly if socially transmitted information is outdated, maladaptive or unsuitable. Therefore, animals should use social information discerningly, in situations where it is most adaptive. In this study, we investigated whether the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, would copy conspecifics, even if it imposed a significant fitness cost. Female fruit flies were offered the choice of laying eggs on two food patches: one that was occupied by conspecifics but laced with aversive quinine and one that was unoccupied but contained no quinine. We found that when no social cues were available, flies would avoid laying their eggs on quinine. However, when conspecifics were present, this avoidance behavior completely disappeared and flies significantly preferred to lay their eggs on the suboptimal quinine patch. Our findings unequivocally demonstrate that social information outcompetes personal information, even if it results in maladaptive choices.