A Conceptual Model for Milling Formations in Biological Aggregates

  • Ryan Lukeman
  • Yue-Xian Li
  • Leah Edelstein-Keshet
Original Article


Collective behavior of swarms and flocks has been studied from several perspectives, including continuous (Eulerian) and individual-based (Lagrangian) models. Here, we use the latter approach to examine a minimal model for the formation and maintenance of group structure, with specific emphasis on a simple milling pattern in which particles follow one another around a closed circular path.

We explore how rules and interactions at the level of the individuals lead to this pattern at the level of the group. In contrast to many studies based on simulation results, our model is sufficiently simple that we can obtain analytical predictions. We consider a Newtonian framework with distance-dependent pairwise interaction-force. Unlike some other studies, our mill formations do not depend on domain boundaries, nor on centrally attracting force-fields or rotor chemotaxis.

By focusing on a simple geometry and simple distant-dependent interactions, we characterize mill formations and derive existence conditions in terms of model parameters. An eigenvalue equation specifies stability regions based on properties of the interaction function. We explore this equation numerically, and validate the stability conclusions via simulation, showing distinct behavior inside, outside, and on the boundary of stability regions. Moving mill formations are then investigated, showing the effect of individual autonomous self-propulsion on group-level motion. The simplified framework allows us to clearly relate individual properties (via model parameters) to group-level structure. These relationships provide insight into the more complicated milling formations observed in nature, and suggest design properties of artificial schools where such rotational motion is desired.


Milling Self-propelled particles Collective motion Schooling behavior Self-organization 


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Copyright information

© Society for Mathematical Biology 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ryan Lukeman
    • 1
  • Yue-Xian Li
    • 1
  • Leah Edelstein-Keshet
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Mathematics, and Institute of Applied MathematicsUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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