Bringing a Time-Depth Perspective to Collective Animal Behaviour

Trends Ecol Evol. 2016 Jul;31(7):550-562. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2016.03.018. Epub 2016 Apr 19.


The field of collective animal behaviour examines how relatively simple, local interactions between individuals in groups combine to produce global-level outcomes. Existing mathematical models and empirical work have identified candidate mechanisms for numerous collective phenomena but have typically focused on one-off or short-term performance. We argue that feedback between collective performance and learning - giving the former the capacity to become an adaptive, and potentially cumulative, process - is a currently poorly explored but crucial mechanism in understanding collective systems. We synthesise material ranging from swarm intelligence in social insects through collective movements in vertebrates to collective decision making in animal and human groups, to propose avenues for future research to identify the potential for changes in these systems to accumulate over time.

Keywords: collective behaviour; collective intelligence; collective learning; decision making; energetics; time–depth.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Movement
  • Social Behavior*