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Measuring collective behavior: an ecological approach


Collective behavior is ubiquitous throughout nature. Many systems, from brains to ant colonies, work without central control. Collective behavior is regulated by interactions among the individual participants such as neurons or ants. Interactions create feedback that produce the outcome, the behavior that we observe: Brains think and remember, ant colonies collect food or move nests, flocks of birds turn, human societies develop new forms of social organization. But the processes by which interactions produce outcomes are as diverse as the behavior itself. Just as convergent evolution has led to organs, such as the eye, that are similar in function but are based on different physiological processes, so it has led to forms of collective behavior that appear similar but arise from different social processes. An ecological perspective can help us to understand the dynamics of collective behavior and how it works.

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Correspondence to Deborah M. Gordon.

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This article is part of the Special Issue on Quantifying Collectivity.

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Gordon, D.M. Measuring collective behavior: an ecological approach. Theory Biosci. 140, 353–360 (2021).

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  • Interaction network
  • Feedback
  • Social organization