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Overview

Scientific discussion meeting organised by Dr Christos Ioannou and Dr Kate Laskowski.

Click watch on YouTube to view the full video playlist.

Great strides have been made in understanding the mechanisms underlying collective behaviour in animals using the complex systems approach common in the physical sciences. This work however focuses on snapshots of collective behaviour. The goal of this meeting was to integrate the study of collective behaviour over time: how does it develop and how does it evolve?

Recordings of the talks will be available soon. Meeting papers will be published in an issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

Attending this event

This meeting has taken place.

Enquiries: contact the Scientific Programmes team

Organisers

Schedule


Chair

09:00-09:05
Welcome
09:05-09:35
Collective behavior through time

Abstract

Collective behaviours such as flocking in birds or decision making in colonial insects are some of the most intriguing behavioral phenomena in the animal kingdom. This fascination coupled with advancing technologies has allowed scientists to make ever more refined investigations into the mechanisms and functional value of such behaviours. But, as is often the case with behaviour, this work has generally only been able to focus on snapshots of collective behaviour. This static perspective has hindered our ability to focus on other key questions relating to collective behaviour: how does development and natural selection shape the patterns of mechanisms of such fascinating behaviours? Such 'time-depth' perspectives will help offer insight into how responsive collective behaviours may be to external environmental influence throughout animals lives and whether there are certain pathways of evolutionary least resistance in the mechanisms underlying these behaviours. Experimental and analytical methods for studying collective behaviour, the development of behaviour and evolutionary processes are all well established within each of their fields; our goal here is to facilitate the cross-fertilisation of methodologies and ideas for the benefit of both those already working collective behaviour and those who can apply their expertise in development and evolution to novel questions in collective behaviour. 

Speakers

09:35-09:45
Discussion
09:45-10:15
Development of collective behaviour in zebrafish

Speakers

10:15-10:25
Discussion
10:25-10:50
Coffee
10:50-11:20
Aging in a Social Context

Abstract

Aging is universal amongst vertebrates. The enhanced experience and physical deterioration that come with age can influence how individuals engage with their social worlds. On the flipside, social processes can themselves influence the pace at which individuals age, ultimately impacting on their longevity and ability to reproduce. Our ability to understand the mechanistic and functional drivers of social behaviour is thus fundamentally tied to our understanding of how social behaviour changes across the lifespan. Using data from a long-term fieldsite of macaque monkeys whose individual survival is linked to their social connections to other members of their group, Dr Brent shows how affiliative social interactions change across adulthood – from prime-aged to older adults. Adult females continue to engage with their social worlds as they age but narrow their networks to have a smaller number of partners. Scaling up to higher-level network properties, Dr Brent tests if network narrowing has knock on effects for how indirectly connected older individuals are compared to their younger counterparts, and whether demographic shifts in the age of group members predicts global network properties, eg, are ‘older’ networks more or less connected compared to ‘younger’ networks. Efforts across taxa to quantify changes in sociality as individuals develop and age will help move us towards a more holistic understanding of the causes and consequences of social behaviours. 

Speakers

11:20-11:30
Discussion
11:30-12:00
Conformity and copying in group-living animals

Speakers

12:00-12:10
Discussion

Chair

13:10-13:40
Ontogenesis of self-assembling swarms – building and maintaining collective function in a variable world

Abstract

Mechanical self-assembly is used by several social insect species to quickly build, out of their own bodies, temporary structures that can serve as shelter, scaffolding, bridges, and even life rafts. For over 50 years, these structures have fascinated naturalists and inspired applications in engineering. Yet, their functional mechanisms and their proximate drivers are still poorly understood. Fortunately, recent technical developments imported from engineering and material sciences have started to uncover the construction principles of these – literally – living architectures. During this talk, Dr Garnier will present recent findings across several social insect species that illustrate the behavioral processes that allow these structures to emerge, develop, adapt, and fade away in response to the needs of the colony and the variable environmental conditions they are subjected to. Dr Garnier will also discuss how these results fit into our general understanding of biological self-assembly, for instance in embryology, and how they can impact areas in engineering interested in the design of complex systems for hard-to-predict and noisy environments.

Speakers

13:40-13:50
Discussion
13:50-14:20
The ecology of collective behaviour: studying groups through time

Abstract

Collective behaviour is, fundamentally, a response to ecological drivers. For example, animals might be more coordinated and cohesive in their movements when predation risk is higher. However, how animals collectives respond to ecological challenges is likely to reflect not only current conditions, but also individuals' prior experiences. At present, the relative contributions of different temporal processes—individual development, changes in the social environment, and changes in ecological conditions-contribute to the expression of collective behaviours is largely unexplored. One reason is that studies face significant challenges arising from mismatching timescales, where processes such as demographic change take places on completely different timescales to the collective behaviours that they affect. Dr Farine will discuss examples of mismatching timescales, explain the methodological challenges that these raise, and illustrate the conceptual challenges arising from mismatching timescales by drawing from data on wild vulturine guineafowl. By explicitly tackling the challenge of mismatching timescales, Dr Farine hopes to provide some foundations for studying collective behaviour through the lens of development and evolution.

Speakers

14:20-14:30
Discussion
14:30-14:55
Tea
14:55-15:25
Genotypic Variation in Social Groups Shapes Variation in and Selection on Social Group Structure

Abstract

The structure of individuals’ social groups can be an important driver of variation in components of individuals’ fitness. Yet processes that drive variation in social group structure and its impact on fitness -ie, social selection- are not well- described. The genotypic composition of social groups and how it affects individuals’ fitness -ie, indirect genetic effects (IGEs)- is thought to be an important driver of variation in social selection; subsequently, studying the quantitative genetic basis of social group structure and its effects on fitness is necessary for understanding how groups both generate and respond to social selection. Two ways that the genotypic composition of social groups and IGEs can impact social selection is via frequency-dependent selection, and selection on individuals’ direct and indirect social interactions (ie, social network position). Using replicate genotypes of Drosophila melanogaster flies, the researchers manipulated the genotypic composition of social groups, and measured social network positions and multiple components of fitness for individuals within these groups. They found positive frequency-dependent selection operating on measures of females’ fitness, and this frequency-dependent selection varied with indirect genetic effects of social groupmates. Additionally, they found selection operating on measures of individuals’ social network positions, and this selection also varied depending on indirect genetic effects. These findings suggest variation in social selection can be driven by variation in the social context individuals experience. Because social context has a quantitative genetic basis, these findings also suggest social context-dependent social selection provides a mechanism for the adaptive maintenance of social group structure.

Speakers

15:25-15:35
Discussion
15:35-16:05
Dynamics of collective behaviour across space, time, and species

Abstract

Studies of collective animal behaviour have often ignored individual variability. However, newer individual-based models, together with emerging empirical data on animal groups, emphasise how and why this individual variation (within-group heterogeneity) can be important. Here, Dr King briefly reviews empirical evidence showing the importance of individual variation for the structure and function of collective animal behaviour, with examples from laboratory, free-ranging, and wild animal study systems (eg, fish, sheep, goats, baboons). He will then present ongoing work attempting to quantify and model within-group heterogeneity (across space, time, and species) and its influences on the collective properties of a group. The researchers’ goal is to improve our understanding of how within-group heterogeneity may modify and improve collective behaviour in real animal groups, with a view to engineering better artificial swarm systems, which, like early models of collective behaviour tend to be decentralised, distributed, and homogenous.

Speakers

16:05-16:15
Discussion
16:15-16:30
Panel discussion/Overview (future directions)
16:30-18:15
Poster session

Chair

09:00-09:30
Collective learning: from collective intelligence to cultural evolution

Abstract

Collective cognition – where interactions between individuals allow groups to function as integrated sensory, information-processing and decision-making units with superior powers compared to individuals – is one of the key advantages of sociality. However, to what extent collectives as a whole are able to exhibit a ubiquitous individual cognitive capacity – learning – is still relatively poorly understood. Nonetheless, burgeoning evidence from several species now suggests that groups are indeed capable of learning from collective experiences and thus of enhancing their performance beyond the bounds of individual maxima. This process can even give rise to the cultural accumulation of increasingly better solutions to problems repeatedly encountered by a given group, even in the face of turnovers in membership. In this talk, the researchers develop a framework for exploring the mechanisms underlying such collective learning, arguing that while it incorporates elements of both individual and social learning, its drivers extend beyond these. They propose three non-mutually-exclusive mechanisms (individual, empathetic, and organisational learning), the latter two of which represent emergent properties of groups. They look for empirical evidence for each type of learning in their model system (the development of travel routes in homing pigeon flocks), and discuss how the ecology, social organisation and life-history of different species might shape which type of collective learning and cultural accumulation they may expect to find manifested during collective problem-solving specific to their needs.

Speakers

09:30-09:40
Discussion
09:40-10:10
Universal geometric principles of decision-making in neural collectives, individuals and animal groups

Speakers

10:10-10:20
Discussion
10:20-10:55
Coffee
10:55-11:25
The evolution and emergence of intergroup cooperation

Speakers

11:25-11:35
Discussion
11:35-12:05
Towards an evolutionary theory of collective behaviour

Abstract

Collective behaviour is a subfield of behavioural ecology, making extensive use of its tools of observation, experimental manipulation, and model building. However a fundamental behavioural ecology approach, the application of optimality theory, has been comparatively neglected in collective behaviour. This talk seeks to address this imbalance, by outlining an evolutionary theory framework for the discipline. The application of optimality theory to collective behaviour requires a number of questions to be addressed: First, what is the correct quantity to optimise? This is achieved via a combination of considering the organisms' life history, alongside tools such as statistical decision theory and stochastic dynamic programming. Second, what mechanism is appropriate for optimal behaviour? This involves ensuring that models are self-consistent rather than containing arbitrary assumptions. Third, at what level of selection does optimisation act? Selection acts at the level of individuals except in very particular circumstances, yet collective behaviour phenomena are group-level, thus introducing a risk of confusing at what level adaptive properties emerge. This talk presents examples under each of the three questions, as well as discussing mismatches between theory and observation. In doing so, it is hoped that collective behaviour fully inherits the tools and philosophy of its parent discipline of behavioural ecology.

Speakers

12:05-12:15
Discussion

Chair


Chair

13:15-13:45
Lekking as collective behaviour

Abstract

Lekking is a spectacular mating system in which males maintain tightly organised clustering of tiny territories during the mating season, and females visit these leks for mating. This mating strategy is likely a costly behaviour that requires males engage in exaggerated displays and compete vigorously to maintain their territories as well as to gain matings. Various hypotheses – ranging from predation dilution to mating benefit – offer potential explanations for the evolution of this peculiar mating strategy. However, many of these classic hypotheses rarely consider the spatial dynamics that produce and maintain the lek. In this manuscript, the researchers propose to view lekking through the perspective of spatial ecology and collective behaviour, in which simple local interactions between organisms as well as habitat likely produce and maintain leks. Such local interactions are likely shaped by the interplay of selection pressures, such as predation, mate-competition and mate choice, on both males and females. To test these ideas at both proximate and ultimate levels, the researchers argue that the concepts and tools from the literature of collective animal behaviour, such as high-resolution video tracking that enables capturing fine-scale spatiotemporal interactions, could be useful. They illustrate the promise of this approach using blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) leks as a case study. Broadly, they argue that a lens of spatial ecology and collective behaviour can provide novel insights into understanding both the proximate and ultimate factors that shape leks. 

Speakers

13:45-13:55
Discussion
13:55-14:25
Collective Anti-Predator Behaviour

Abstract

The collective behaviour of animals has attracted considerable attention in recent years, with many studies exploring how local interactions between individuals can give rise to global group properties. The functional aspects of collective behaviour are less well studied, especially in the field and relatively few studies have investigated the adaptive benefits of collective behaviour in situations where prey are attacked by predators. This paucity of studies is unsurprising because predator-prey interactions in the field are difficult to observe. Furthermore, the focus in recent studies on predator-prey interactions has been on the collective behaviour of the prey rather than on the behaviour of the predator. Here the researchers present a field study that investigated the anti-predator benefits of waves produced by fish at the water surface when diving down collectively in response to attacks of avian predators. Fish engaged in surface waves that were highly conspicuous, repetitive, and rhythmic involving many thousands of individuals for up to 2 min. Experimentally induced fish waves doubled the time birds waited until their next attack, therefore substantially reducing attack frequency. In one avian predator, capture probability, too, decreased with wave number and birds switched perches in response to wave displays more often than in control treatments, suggesting that they directed their attacks elsewhere. Taken together, these results support an antipredator function of fish waves. The attack delay could be a result of a confusion effect or a consequence of waves acting as a perception advertisement, which requires further exploration.

Speakers

14:25-14:35
Discussion
14:35-15:00
Tea
15:00-15:30
Integrative biology of collective behaviour in social caterpillars

Abstract

Collective behaviour forms the basis for many diverse and complex anti-predator strategies. To evolve, and remain adaptive, these behaviours must depend on their positive impact on individual fitness in the ecological and social context of an individual’s environment, as well at their internal motivational state. Like any behaviour, collective movement or decision making depends on the integration of multiple sensory inputs, and the neural pathways that link the internal and external environment and produce the coordinated response. A coherent understanding of how these processes are coordinated therefore requires and integrative approach that spans traditional disciplines in behavioural biology. Here, the researchers argue that Lepidopteran larvae are well placed to serve as model systems for understanding the integrative biology of collective behaviour.  Lepidopteran larvae display striking diversity in social behaviour, the repeated convergent evolution of collective behaviour, and illustrate critical interactions between ecological, morphological and behavioural traits. While previous, sometimes classic, work has provided an understanding of how and why social behaviours have evolved in Lepidoptera, little is known about the developmental and mechanistic basis of these traits. Recent advances in the quantification of behaviour, and the availability of genomic resources and manipulative tools, allied with the exploitation of the behavioural diversity of tractable Lepidopteran clades, will change this. In doing so, the researchers will be able to address previously unapproachable questions such as: How is age dependent plasticity in collective behaviour facilitated by developing neural systems, and why does it evolve? Are similar neural pathways implicated in the convergent evolution of collective behaviour? To what extent is this convergence shaped by the wider sensory and host plant ecology and evolutionary history of a lineage? And how easy is it for selection to modify neural pathways to switch behavioural strategies from individualist to collectivist?

Speakers

15:30-15:40
Discussion
15:40-16:10
Patterns and processes across the major transition to superorganismality

Speakers

16:10-16:20
Discussion
16:20-17:00
Panel discussion/Overview (future directions