Leadership, collective motion and the evolution of migratory strategies

Commun Integr Biol. 2011 May;4(3):294-8. doi: 10.4161/cib.4.3.14887. Epub 2011 May 1.


Migration is a hallmark life history strategy of a diverse range of organisms, and also ubiquitous in ontogenic processes including normal embryonic development as well as tumor progression. In such scenarios, individual organisms/cells typically respond to long range (and often noisy) environmental cues. In addition, individuals may interact socially with one another leading to emergent group-level navigational abilities. Although much progress has been made in understanding the mechanisms of taxis, there is a lack of theoretical and quantitative understanding of how individuals trade-off information obtained through their own migratory ability and that via social interactions. Here, we discuss results and insights from a recent computational model developed to investigate the evolution of leadership and collective motion in migratory populations. It is shown that, for a broad range of parameter values, only a small proportion of the population gather directional information while the majority employ social cues alone. More generally, ecological conditions for the evolution of resident, solitary and collective migratory strategies are obtained. We discuss how consideration of both proximate and ultimate factors within the same framework may provide insights into preserving migratory patterns that are in grave danger due to anthropogenic pressures.

Keywords: collective cell migration; complex adaptive systems; gradient climbing; habitat fragmentation; hysteresis; microevolution; natural selection; self-propelled particle models.