Wednesday, July 12

Collective Motion and Decision-making in Animal Groups

9:15 AM - 10:00 AM
Room: Imperial Ballroom - ML
Chair: Kirk E. Jordan, IBM Strategic Growth Business/Deep Computing

Animal groups such as bird flocks, insect swarms and fish schools are spectacular, ecologically important and sometimes devastating features of the biology of various species. Outbreaks of the desert locust, for example, can invade approximately one fifth of the Earth’s land surface and are estimated to affect the livelihood of one in ten people on the planet.

Despite huge differences in the size and cognitive abilities of group members, recent models from theoretical physics (self-propelled particle’, SPP models) have suggested that general principles underlie collective motion and that group-level properties may be largely independent of the types of animals involved. Using a combined theoretical and experimental approach involving insect and vertebrate groups, including humans, this lecture will address how, and why, individuals move in unison and investigate the principals of leadership and collective consensus decision-making.

I shall also present recent experimental work on locusts that validates predictions of SPP models including a non-linear density-dependent transition from disordered to ordered motion. The mechanism by which individuals interact will also be revealed using nerve manipulations and field experiments, demonstrating that animals within these huge mobile groups are in effect on a ‘forced march’ driven by cannibalism.

These results will be discussed in the context of the evolution of functional complexity and pattern formation in biological systems.

Iain Couzin
University of Oxford, United Kingdom

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