Information can explain the dynamics of group order in animal collective behaviour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Animal groups vary in their collective order (or state), forming disordered swarms to highly polarized groups. One explanation for this variation is that individuals face differential benefits or costs depending on the group’s order, but empirical evidence for this is lacking. Here we show that in three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus), fish that are first to respond to an ephemeral food source do so faster when shoals are in a disordered, swarm-like state. This is because individuals’ visual fields collectively cover more of their environment, meaning private information is more readily available in disordered groups. Once social information becomes available, however, the arrival times of subsequent group members to the food are faster in more ordered, polarized groups. Our data further suggest that first responding individuals (those that benefit from group disorder) maintain larger differences in heading angle to their nearest neighbours when shoaling, thereby explaining how conflict over whether private or social information is favoured can drive dynamic changes in collective behaviour.


External organisations
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Cambridge
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology
Original languageEnglish
Article number2737
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Publication categoryResearch