Many aquatic animals face a fundamental problem during foraging and migratory movements: while their resources commonly vary at large spatial scales, they can only sample and assess their environment at relatively small, local spatial scales. Thus, they are unable to choose movement directions by directly sampling distant parts of their environment. A common strategy to overcome this problem is taxis, a behaviour in which an animal performs a biased random walk by changing direction more rapidly when local conditions are getting worse. Such an animal spends more time moving in right directions than wrong ones, and eventually gets to a favourable area. Taxis is inefficient, however, when environmental gradients are weak or overlain by ‘noisy’ small-scale fluctuations. In this paper, I show that schooling behaviour can improve the ability of animals performing taxis to climb gradients, even under conditions when asocial taxis would be ineffective. Schooling is a social behaviour incorporating tendencies to remain close to and align with fellow members of a group. It enhances taxis because the alignment tendency produces tight angular distributions within groups, and dampens the stochastic effects of individual sampling errors. As a result, more school members orient up-gradient than in the comparable asocial case. However, overly strong schooling behaviour makes the school slow in responding to changing gradient directions. This trade-off suggests an optimal level of schooling behaviour for given spatio-temporal scales of environmental variations. Social taxis may enhance the selective value of schooling in pelagic grazers such as herrings, anchovies and Antarctic krill. Furthermore, the degree of aggregation in a population of schooling animals may affect directly the rate and direction of migration and foraging movements.
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GrÜnbaum, D. Schooling as a strategy for taxis in a noisy environment. Evolutionary Ecology 12, 503–522 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1006574607845
- optimal foraging
- resource distributions
- search strategies
- social behaviour