New paper out in ProcB!

From swarm to school, stickleback groups differ repeatedly in their collective performance  

 among schooling fish, groups can have different collective personalities, with some shoals sticking closer together, being better coordinated, and showing clearer leadership than others.

For centuries, scientists and non-scientists alike have been fascinated by the beautiful and often complex collective behaviour of animal groups, such as the highly synchronised movements of flocks of birds and schools of fish. Often, those spectacular collective patterns emerge from individual group members using simple rules in their interactions, without requiring global knowledge of their group.

In recent years it has also become apparent that, across the animal kingdom, individual animals often differ considerably and consistently in their behaviour, with some individuals being bolder, more active, or more social than others.

New research conducted at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology suggests that observations of different groups of schooling fish could provide important insights into how the make-up of groups can drive collective behaviour and performance.

In the study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers created random groups of wild-caught stickleback fish and subjected them repeatedly to a range of environments that included open spaces, plant cover, and patches of food.

“By filming the schooling fish from above and tracking the groups’ movements in detail, we found that the randomly composed shoals showed profound differences in their collective behaviour that persisted across different ecological contexts. Some groups were consistently faster, better coordinated, more cohesive, and showed clearer leadership structure than others.

“That such differences existed among the groups is remarkable as individuals were randomly grouped with others that were of similar age and size and with which they had very limited previous social contact.”

This research shows for the first time that, even among animals where group membership changes frequently over time and individuals are not very strongly related to each other, such as schooling fish or flocking birds, stable differences can emerge in the collective performance of animal groups.

Such behavioural variability among groups may directly affect the survival and reproductive success of the individuals within them and influence how they associate with one another. Ultimately these findings may therefore help understand the selective pressures that have shaped social behaviour.

Dr Andrea Manica, co-author of the paper, added: “Our research reveals that the collective performance of groups is strongly driven by their composition, suggesting that consistent behavioural differences among groups could be a widespread phenomenon in animal societies”.

 These research findings provide important new insights that may help explain and predict the performance of social groups, which could be beneficial in building human teams or constructing automated robot swarms.

The study is published in the 7 February 2018 issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B and is available Open Access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.2629

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Finished student experiment

The last 6 weeks master students Jana and Fe did an exciting project with me to understand if and how fish school under different light conditions, including complete darkness. They did an excellent job and although still preliminary we already got some exciting results, giving insights into what senses sticklebacks use for schooling and how they manage to school even under very low light conditions. More about this soon!

Awarded public engagement grant

An important aspect of science is the dialogue with the general public. Most public outreach is however rather static, only focused on transferring knowledge, and quite uni-directional. I wanted to find a way to convey my research about collective animal behaviour in a format that people can engage with and appreciate.

An excellent opportunity for more interactive outreach is to bridge science with art. Not only may this lead to a better understanding of science by the general public and more appreciation about the hidden beauty of the world around us, it may also generate new ideas and perspectives about my own work.

I am excited to say that I have been awarded a Zukunftskolleg Intersectoral grant that enables me to set-up a professional collaboration with Toer, a Dutch design studio known for their curiosity-driven work and interactive art installations. This long-term program will bridge the disciplines of science, art, and technology with the aim to not only inform and educate the public about collective behaviour but to inspire and make science accessible in a playful way.

The project is called Under the surface, of which soon we will launch a brand new website at www.under-the-surface.com!

Awarded mentorship grant

I am excited to have been awarded a Zukunftskolleg Mentorship grant to continue my collaboration with Shaun Killen. Shaun and I started working together last year to unravel the fundamental mechanisms of individual traits in the collective behaviour of animal groups. Besides setting-up some new experiments on fish physiology, personality and collective behaviour, we are writing an opinion paper on this important topic.

Reviewing and Publons

As a scientist, I think it is important to contribute to the community. One of the ways I have been doing this the last couple years is by reviewing a fair share of papers (currently 44 reviews for 20 different journals). Even if I am busy I try to accept review invitations if I think I can give a proper assessment of the paper.

I have recently decided to join Publons to have an actual official log of my reviewing activity. After adding my whole backlog of reviews it is now as simple as a simple as forwarding an email to Publons to keep track of my reviews. I think it is great scientists get credit or their reviewing and editorial contributions and think that potentially a website like Publons may help provide further incentive for academics to keep fulfilling this important job.

Snorkling in the Seerhein

Today after work I went snorkeling with some friends from work. We decided to start near the heart of Konstanz and swim down the Seerhein for about one and a half kilometer. I must say people looked a bit surprised to see three guys walking in wetsuit across the street. Although the water was not as clear as I hoped we still managed to see a couple groups of huge Carp, a number of single adult Pike of 1m+ at about 5-8m depth on the river floor, and some huge stickleback schools swimming in the shallows.

A huge Carp, my friend Ziga, and a large adult Pike somewhere in the green of the Seerhein

New paper out in Current Biology!

My latest paper on the collective behaviour of stickleback shoals is out today in the journal Current Biology!

Jolles, JW, Boogert, NJ, Sridhar, VH, Couzin, ID, Manica, A. (2017) Consistent individual differences drive collective behaviour and group functioning of schooling fish. Current Biology 27: 1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.08.004 (link).

Highly coordinated school of three-spined sticklebacks swimming in the blue waters of the Bodensee near Konstanz, Southern Germany. Photo: Jolle W. Jolles

Highly coordinated school of three-spined sticklebacks swimming in the blue waters of the Bodensee near Konstanz, Southern Germany. Photo: Jolle W. Jolles

New research sheds light on how “animal personalities” – inter-individual differences in animal behaviour – can drive the collective behaviour and functioning of animal groups such as schools of fish, including their cohesion, leadership, movement dynamics, and group performance. These research findings from the University of Konstanz, the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology and the University of Cambridge provide important new insights that could help explain and predict the emergence of complex collective behavioural patterns across social and ecological scales, with implications for conservation and fisheries and potentially creating bio-inspired robot swarms. It may even help us understand human society and team performance. The study is published in the 7 September 2017 issue of Current Biology.

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