Hundreds of starlings flocking at dusk have become a familiar sight in towns and cities across the UK.
But new research by scientists at the University of York suggests that the birds react to minimal information from those nearest them to create these spectacular twilight roosting displays.
Researchers in the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA), based in the University's Department of Biology, developed a computer model that, for the first time, reproduces aspects of real flocking. The YCCSA computer model assumed that the starlings process only a fraction of the information available to them, such as the position and heading of other birds.
The research, published online in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, builds on previous analysis of roosting displays which found that birds flying together in huge flocks react to only the seven closest birds around them.
The research was conducted by Nikolai Bode, who is on a Natural Environment Research Council studentship.
"Our work suggests limited information is an important feature in collective motion and provides a clear relationship between theoretical models of animal collective behaviour and these significant empirical findings," he said.
- Nikolai W. F. Bode, Daniel W. Franks, and A. Jamie Wood. Limited interactions in flocks: relating model simulations to empirical data. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 2010; DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2010.0397
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