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HFSP J. 2008 Aug;2(4):205-19. doi: 10.2976/1.2961038. Epub 2008 Aug 1.

Collective behavior in animal groups: theoretical models and empirical studies.

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Centre for Statistical Mechanics and Complexity (SMC), CNR-INFM, Department of Physics,University of Rome La Sapienza, P.le A. Moro 2, 00185 Rome, Italy and Institute for Complex Systems (ISC), CNR, Via dei Taurini 19, 00185 Rome, Italy.


Collective phenomena in animal groups have attracted much attention in the last years, becoming one of the hottest topics in ethology. There are various reasons for this. On the one hand, animal grouping provides a paradigmatic example of self-organization, where collective behavior emerges in absence of centralized control. The mechanism of group formation, where local rules for the individuals lead to a coherent global state, is very general and transcends the detailed nature of its components. In this respect, collective animal behavior is a subject of great interdisciplinary interest. On the other hand, there are several important issues related to the biological function of grouping and its evolutionary success. Research in this field boasts a number of theoretical models, but much less empirical results to compare with. For this reason, even if the general mechanisms through which self-organization is achieved are qualitatively well understood, a quantitative test of the models assumptions is still lacking. New analysis on large groups, which require sophisticated technological procedures, can provide the necessary empirical data.

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