1. Computational and Systems Biology
  2. Physics of Living Systems
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Social interactions drive efficient foraging and income equality in groups of fish

  1. Roy Harpaz  Is a corresponding author
  2. Elad Schneidman
  1. Harvard University, United States
  2. Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2020;9:e56196 doi: 10.7554/eLife.56196


The social interactions underlying group foraging and their benefits have been mostly studied using mechanistic models replicating qualitative features of group behavior, and focused on a single resource or a few clustered ones. Here, we tracked groups of freely foraging adult zebrafish with spatially dispersed food items and found that fish perform stereotypical maneuvers when consuming food, which attract neighboring fish. We then present a mathematical model, based on inferred functional interactions between fish, which accurately describes individual and group foraging of real fish. We show that these interactions allow fish to combine individual and social information to achieve near-optimal foraging efficiency and promote income equality within groups. We further show that the interactions that would maximize efficiency in these social foraging models depend on group size, but not on food distribution - suggesting that fish may adaptively pick the subgroup of neighbors they 'listen to' to determine their own behavior.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Roy Harpaz

    Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-9587-3389
  2. Elad Schneidman

    Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-8653-9848


Israeli Science Foundation (1629/12)

  • Roy Harpaz
  • Elad Schneidman

European Research Council (311238)

  • Roy Harpaz
  • Elad Schneidman

Human Frontier Science Program (RGP0065/2012)

  • Roy Harpaz
  • Elad Schneidman

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Animal experimentation: Animal care and all the experimental procedures were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of the Weizmann Institute of Science (Protocol 17310415-2)

Reviewing Editor

  1. Gordon J Berman, Emory University, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: February 20, 2020
  2. Accepted: August 5, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: August 25, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: September 15, 2020 (version 2)


© 2020, Harpaz & Schneidman

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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