TitleNoise-induced schooling of fish
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsJhawar J, Morris RG, Amith-Kumar UR, Raj MD, Rogers T, Rajendran H, Guttal V
Date Published04/2020

Groups of fish tend to move in an organized fashion. Here the authors investigate the behaviour of schools of freshwater fish and find that schooling is induced by noise; the smaller the group size, the greater the noise and hence the greater the alignment.

We report on the dynamics of collective alignment in groups of the cichlid fish Etroplus suratensis. Focusing on small- to intermediate-sized groups (10 less than or similar to N less than or similar to 100), we demonstrate that schooling (highly polarized 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 greater the likelihood of alignment. Such rare empirical evidence tightly constrains the possible underlying interactions that govern fish alignment, suggesting that E. suratensis either spontaneously change their direction or copy the direction of another fish, without any local averaging (the otherwise canonical mechanism of collective alignment). Our study therefore highlights the importance of stochasticity in behavioural inference. Furthermore, rather than simply obscuring otherwise deterministic dynamics, noise can be fundamental to the characterization of emergent collective behaviours.