Cooperative tasks such as herding and hunting are common among higher animals in nature. A particularly complex example is that of mobbing by spotted hyenas. Through careful coordination, a large number of spotted hyenas can attack a group of lions and successfully steal a kill from them, even though lions are much bigger and stronger. This behavior is more complex than others that hyenas exhibit, and it appears to be heritable. How such behavioral advance can emerge in evolution is a fascinating question; it is difficult to study in nature, but computational simulations can provide insight. In simulation, hyenas initially evolved different levels of boldness, corresponding to simple behaviors such as solo attack, delayed attack, and delayed approach. These behaviors can be seen as stepping stones in constructing the more complex mobbing behavior in later generations. These results suggest a general stepping-stone-based mechanism through which complex coordinated behaviors can arise in humans and animals. This insight should prove useful in building cognitive architectures and team strategies for artificial agents in the future.
Recipient of the CEC-2020 Best-Paper Award