Research ArticleECOLOGY

The effects of external cues on individual and collective behavior of shoaling fish

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Science Advances  23 Jun 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 6, e1603201
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1603201


Collective animal behavior is an emergent phenomenon arising from the local interactions of the members of animal groups. Considerable progress has been made in characterizing these interactions, particularly inferring rules that shape and guide the responses of animals to their near neighbors. To date, experimental work has focused on collective behavior within a single, stable context. We examine the individual and collective behavior of a schooling fish species, the x-ray tetra (Pristella maxillaris), identifying their response to changes in context produced by food cues or conspecific alarm cues. Fish exposed to alarm cues show pronounced, broad-ranging changes of behavior, including reducing speed and predictability in their movements. Alarmed fish also alter their responses to other group members, including enacting a smaller zone of repulsion and increasing their frequency of observation of, and responsiveness to, near neighbors. Fish subject to food cues increased speed as a function of neighbor positions and reduced encounter frequency with near neighbors. Overall, changes in individual behavior and the interactions among individuals in response to external cues coincide with changes in group-level patterns, providing insight into the adaptability of behavior to changes in context and interrelationship between local interactions and global patterns in collective behavior.

  • collective behaviour
  • collective motion
  • rules of interaction
  • sociality

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