Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Strength in numbers

Bird flocking is a striking example of collective animal behaviour. A vivid illustration of this phenomenon is provided by the aerial display of vast flocks of starlings gathering at dusk. These great swirling masses manoeuvre themselves with extraordinary spatial coherence. Both the evolutionary justification and the basic mechanics of flocking appear to be poorly understood but are common throughout the natural world in schools of fish as well as swarms of insects.
A group of Italian physicists working on a project called STARFLAG claim to have devised a manner of 3d mapping that can allow scientists to determine how an individual starling will react and move within a flock. The mechanisms underlying flock movements may also be applicable to human economic behaviours, which also exhibit flocking phenomena like passing fads.

(Credit: STARFLAG project, INFM-CNR)

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