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J Math Biol. 2003 Oct;47(4):353-89. Epub 2003 May 15.

Mutual interactions, potentials, and individual distance in a social aggregation.

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Dept. of Mathematics and Center for Genetics and Development, Univ. of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


We formulate a Lagrangian (individual-based) model to investigate the spacing of individuals in a social aggregate (e.g., swarm, flock, school, or herd). Mutual interactions of swarm members have been expressed as the gradient of a potential function in previous theoretical studies. In this specific case, one can construct a Lyapunov function, whose minima correspond to stable stationary states of the system. The range of repulsion (r) and attraction (a) must satisfy r < a for cohesive groups (i.e., short range repulsion and long range attraction). We show quantitatively how repulsion must dominate attraction ( Rr(d+1) > cAa(d+1) where R, A are magnitudes, c is a constant of order 1, and d is the space dimension) to avoid collapse of the group to a tight cluster. We also verify the existence of a well-spaced locally stable state, having a characteristic individual distance. When the number of individuals in a group increases, a dichotomy occurs between swarms in which individual distance is preserved versus those in which the physical size of the group is maintained at the expense of greater crowding.

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