Coordination through Selection, Synchrony, and Sex

Dr James Herbert-Read

Flocks of birds, schools of fish, and swarms of insects perform spectacular displays of coordination without choreography. While previous explanations for such coordination ranged from thought transference to mere coincidence, we now know that these seemingly complex behaviours can be understood by identifying the simple behavioural rules that govern how individuals interact together in groups. My research focuses on quantifying what these rule are, and asking how they evolve. In this talk, I will give examples of how and why coordination is achieved in the natural world. I will first describe how schools of fish coordinate their movements, and show how a fortuitous natural experiment allows us to understand how schooling behaviour has evolved. I will then discuss how predators have evolved strategies to overcome group defences. In particular, I will discuss a new form of group hunting we recently discovered in sailfish, where group hunters attack schooling sardine prey. I will finally explore another type of coordination in animal groups – the synchronous calling of male cicadas in the Australian bush. I will show how simple male-male calling interactions scale to produce waves of sound that spread though entire forests. These examples will demonstrate how seemingly complex group-level phenomena are driven by animals using simple social interaction rules. Moreover, I will emphasise that this coordination is not driven by cooperation. Instead, I will argue that coordination emerges as a result of selfish individuals acting to increase their own survival and reproductive success.

Join us for the talk: https://youtu.be/AnGDUX0zpe4