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Sci Rep. 2014 Apr 23;4:4766. doi: 10.1038/srep04766.

Searching for effective forces in laboratory insect swarms.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627, USA.


Collective animal behaviour is often modeled by systems of agents that interact via effective social forces, including short-range repulsion and long-range attraction. We search for evidence of such effective forces by studying laboratory swarms of the flying midge Chironomus riparius. Using multi-camera stereoimaging and particle-tracking techniques, we record three-dimensional trajectories for all the individuals in the swarm. Acceleration measurements show a clear short-range repulsion, which we confirm by considering the spatial statistics of the midges, but no conclusive long-range interactions. Measurements of the mean free path of the insects also suggest that individuals are on average very weakly coupled, but that they are also tightly bound to the swarm itself. Our results therefore suggest that some attractive interaction maintains cohesion of the swarms, but that this interaction is not as simple as an attraction to nearest neighbours.

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