Noise-Induced Schooling of Fish

28 Mar 2019  ·  Jhawar Jitesh, Morris Richard G., Amith-Kumar U. R., Raj M. Danny, R. Harikrishnan, Guttal Vishwesha ·

We report on the dynamics of collective alignment in groups of the cichlid fish, Etroplus suratensis. Focusing on small-to-intermediate sized groups ($10<N<100$), we demonstrate that schooling (highly polarised and coherent motion) is noise-induced, arising from the intrinsic stochasticity associated with finite numbers of interacting fish. The fewer the fish, the greater the (multiplicative) noise and therefore the likelihood of alignment. Such empirical evidence is rare, and tightly constrains the possible underlying interactions between fish: computer simulations indicate that E. suratensis align with each other one at a time, which is at odds with the canonical mechanism of collective alignment, local direction-averaging. More broadly, our results confirm that, rather than simply obscuring otherwise deterministic dynamics, noise is fundamental to the characterisation of emergent collective behaviours, suggesting a need to re-appraise aspects of both collective motion and behavioural inference.

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