From behavioural analyses to models of collective motion in fish schools

Ugo Lopez, Jacques Gautrais, Iain D. Couzin, Guy Theraulaz


Fish schooling is a phenomenon of long-lasting interest in ethology and ecology, widely spread across taxa and ecological contexts, and has attracted much interest from statistical physics and theoretical biology as a case of self-organized behaviour. One topic of intense interest is the search of specific behavioural mechanisms at stake at the individual level and from which the school properties emerges. This is fundamental for understanding how selective pressure acting at the individual level promotes adaptive properties of schools and in trying to disambiguate functional properties from non-adaptive epiphenomena. Decades of studies on collective motion by means of individual-based modelling have allowed a qualitative understanding of the self-organization processes leading to collective properties at school level, and provided an insight into the behavioural mechanisms that result in coordinated motion. Here, we emphasize a set of paradigmatic modelling assumptions whose validity remains unclear, both from a behavioural point of view and in terms of quantitative agreement between model outcome and empirical data. We advocate for a specific and biologically oriented re-examination of these assumptions through experimental-based behavioural analysis and modelling.


  • One contribution to a Theme Issue ‘Collective motion in biological systems: experimental approaches joint with particle and continuum models’.

  • Received June 29, 2012.
  • Accepted September 11, 2012.
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