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      Inferring individual rules from collective behavior.

      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

      Animals, Group Structure, Water, chemistry

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          Abstract

          Social organisms form striking aggregation patterns, displaying cohesion, polarization, and collective intelligence. Determining how they do so in nature is challenging; a plethora of simulation studies displaying life-like swarm behavior lack rigorous comparison with actual data because collecting field data of sufficient quality has been a bottleneck. Here, we bridge this gap by gathering and analyzing a high-quality dataset of flocking surf scoters, forming well-spaced groups of hundreds of individuals on the water surface. By reconstructing each individual's position, velocity, and trajectory, we generate spatial and angular neighbor-distribution plots, revealing distinct concentric structure in positioning, a preference for neighbors directly in front, and strong alignment with neighbors on each side. We fit data to zonal interaction models and characterize which individual interaction forces suffice to explain observed spatial patterns. Results point to strong short-range repulsion, intermediate-range alignment, and longer-range attraction (with circular zones), as well as a weak but significant frontal-sector interaction with one neighbor. A best-fit model with such interactions accounts well for observed group structure, whereas absence or alteration in any one of these rules fails to do so. We find that important features of observed flocking surf scoters can be accounted for by zonal models with specific, well-defined rules of interaction.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          20616032
          2906562
          10.1073/pnas.1001763107

          Chemistry

          Animals, Group Structure, Water, chemistry

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