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Collective Sensing and Decision-Making in Animal Groups: From Fish Schools to Primate Societies

Speaker: Iain Couzin
Speaker Affiliation: Director, Department of Collective Behaviour, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Konstanz, Germany
Director, DFG Excellence Cluster - Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour
Chair of Biodiversity and Collective Behaviour, Department of Biology, University of Konstanz, Germany

Date: Thursday, May 2, 2019 at 5 p.m. in 1-190

Abstract: Understanding how social influence shapes biological processes is a central challenge in contemporary science, essential for achieving progress in a variety of fields ranging from the organization and evolution of coordinated collective action among cells, or animals, to the dynamics of information exchange in human societies. Using an integrated experimental and theoretical approach I will address how, and why, animals exhibit highly-coordinated collective behavior. I will demonstrate imaging and virtual reality technology that allows us to reconstruct (automatically) the dynamic, time-varying networks that correspond to the visual cues employed by organisms when making movement decisions. Sensory networks are shown to provide a much more accurate representation of how social influence propagates in groups, and their analysis allows us to identify, for any instant in time, the most socially-influential individuals within groups, and to predict the magnitude of complex behavioral cascades before they actually occur. I will also investigate the coupling between spatial and information dynamics in groups and reveal that emergent problem solving is the predominant mechanism by which mobile groups sense, and respond to complex environmental gradients. Evolutionary modeling demonstrates such ‘physical computation’ readily evolves within populations of selfish organisms, allowing individuals to compute collectively the spatial distribution of resources. Finally, I will reveal the critical role uninformed, or unbiased, individuals play in effecting fast and democratic consensus decision-making in collectives, and will test these predictions with experiments involving schooling fish and groups of wild storks and baboons.

Biography: Iain Couzin is Director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Department of Collective Behaviour and the DFG Excellence Cluster ‘Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour’, and Chair of Biodiversity and Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously he was an Assistant- and then Full-Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University, and prior to that a Royal Society University Research Fellow in the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, and a Junior Research Fellow in the Sciences at Balliol College, Oxford. His work aims to reveal the fundamental principles that underlie evolved collective behavior, and consequently his research includes the study of a wide range of biological systems, from insect swarms to fish schools and primate groups. In recognition of his research he has been recipient of the Searle Scholar Award in 2008, top 5 most cited papers of the decade in animal behavior research 1999-2010, the Mohammed Dahleh Award in 2009, Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10” Award in 2010, National Geographic Emerging Explorer Award in 2012, the Scientific Medal of the Zoological Society of London in 2013 and Clarivate Analytics (formerly Thompson Reuters) Global Highly Cited Researcher in 2018.