1. Ecology
  2. Evolutionary Biology
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The evolution of distributed sensing and collective computation in animal populations

  1. Andrew M Hein  Is a corresponding author
  2. Sara Brin Rosenthal
  3. George I Hagstrom
  4. Andrew Berdahl
  5. Colin J Torney
  6. Iain D Couzin
  1. Princeton University, United States
  2. Santa Fe Institute, United States
  3. University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, United Kingdom
  4. Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany
Research Article
  • Cited 46
  • Views 3,226
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Cite this article as: eLife 2015;4:e10955 doi: 10.7554/eLife.10955

Abstract

Many animal groups exhibit rapid, coordinated collective motion. Yet, the evolutionary forces that cause such collective responses to evolve are poorly understood. Here we develop analytical methods and evolutionary simulations based on experimental data from schooling fish. We use these methods to investigate how populations evolve within unpredictable, time-varying resource environments. We show that populations evolve toward a distinctive regime in behavioral phenotype space, where small responses of individuals to local environmental cues cause spontaneous changes in the collective state of groups. These changes resemble phase transitions in physical systems. Through these transitions, individuals evolve the emergent capacity to sense and respond to resource gradients (i.e. individuals perceive gradients via social interactions, rather than sensing gradients directly), and to allocate themselves among distinct, distant resource patches. Our results yield new insight into how natural selection, acting on selfish individuals, results in the highly effective collective responses evident in nature.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Andrew M Hein

    Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, United States
    For correspondence
    ahein@princeton.edu
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  2. Sara Brin Rosenthal

    Department of Physics, Princeton University, Princeton, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  3. George I Hagstrom

    Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  4. Andrew Berdahl

    Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  5. Colin J Torney

    Centre for Mathematics and the Environment, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Penryn, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  6. Iain D Couzin

    Department of Collective Behaviour, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Konstanz, Germany
    Competing interests
    Iain D Couzin, Reviewing editor, eLife.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Michael Doebeli, University of British Columbia, Canada

Publication history

  1. Received: August 20, 2015
  2. Accepted: November 1, 2015
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: December 10, 2015 (version 1)
  4. Accepted Manuscript updated: December 17, 2015 (version 2)
  5. Version of Record published: February 3, 2016 (version 3)

Copyright

© 2015, Hein et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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