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PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(11):e1002786. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002786. Epub 2012 Nov 29.

How random is social behaviour? Disentangling social complexity through the study of a wild house mouse population.

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Chair of Systems Design, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Out of all the complex phenomena displayed in the behaviour of animal groups, many are thought to be emergent properties of rather simple decisions at the individual level. Some of these phenomena may also be explained by random processes only. Here we investigate to what extent the interaction dynamics of a population of wild house mice (Mus domesticus) in their natural environment can be explained by a simple stochastic model. We first introduce the notion of perceptual landscape, a novel tool used here to describe the utilisation of space by the mouse colony based on the sampling of individuals in discrete locations. We then implement the behavioural assumptions of the perceptual landscape in a multi-agent simulation to verify their accuracy in the reproduction of observed social patterns. We find that many high-level features--with the exception of territoriality--of our behavioural dataset can be accounted for at the population level through the use of this simplified representation. Our findings underline the potential importance of random factors in the apparent complexity of the mice's social structure. These results resonate in the general context of adaptive behaviour versus elementary environmental interactions.

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