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Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Dec 5;280(1752):20122564. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2564. Print 2013 Feb 7.

The role of individuality in collective group movement.

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School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.


How different levels of biological organization interact to shape each other's function is a central question in biology. One particularly important topic in this context is how individuals' variation in behaviour shapes group-level characteristics. We investigated how fish that express different locomotory behaviour in an asocial context move collectively when in groups. First, we established that individual fish have characteristic, repeatable locomotion behaviours (i.e. median speeds, variance in speeds and median turning speeds) when tested on their own. When tested in groups of two, four or eight fish, we found individuals partly maintained their asocial median speed and median turning speed preferences, while their variance in speed preference was lost. The strength of this individuality decreased as group size increased, with individuals conforming to the speed of the group, while also decreasing the variability in their own speed. Further, individuals adopted movement characteristics that were dependent on what group size they were in. This study therefore shows the influence of social context on individual behaviour. If the results found here can be generalized across species and contexts, then although individuality is not entirely lost in groups, social conformity and group-size-dependent effects drive how individuals will adjust their behaviour in groups.

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