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Social structure 'helps birds avoid a collision course'

Date:
May 21, 2015
Source:
University of York
Summary:
The sight of skilful aerial maneuvering by flocks of Greylag geese to avoid collisions with York's Millennium Bridge intrigued a mathematical biologist. It raised the question of how birds collectively negotiate human-made obstacles such as wind turbines that lie in their flight paths.
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Tower Bridge in London (stock image). The researchers created a range of computer simulations to explore if social hierarchies are beneficial to navigation, and how collision risk is affected by environmental conditions and the birds' desire to maintain an efficient direct flight path.
Credit: © chrisdorney / Fotolia

The sight of skilful aerial maneuvering by flocks of Greylag geese to avoid collisions with York's Millennium Bridge intrigued mathematical biologist Dr Jamie Wood. It raised the question of how birds collectively negotiate human-made obstacles such as wind turbines which lie in their flight paths.

It led to a research project with colleagues in the Departments of Biology and Mathematics at York and scientists at the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

The study found that the social structure of groups of migratory birds may have a significant effect on their vulnerability to avoid collisions with obstacles, particularly wind turbines.

The research is published in the Royal Society journal Interface.

The researchers created a range of computer simulations to explore if social hierarchies are beneficial to navigation, and how collision risk is affected by environmental conditions and the birds' desire to maintain an efficient direct flight path.

Lead author Dr Wood, said: "We wanted to understand how different social behavior of different species would affect the ability to avoid obstacles, such as wind turbines and farms, and how much disruption these obstacles cause to the group structure."

Co-author Dr Jon Pitchford added: "We all know that birds naturally migrate in groups. It is less clear whether this is caused by leaders and followers, or by simple democratic rules. Our simulations show that social structure makes an important difference, and that groups with a single well-informed leader are more likely to avoid collisions with wind farms."


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Materials provided by University of York. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. Croft, R. Budgey, J. W. Pitchford, A. J. Wood. Obstacle avoidance in social groups: new insights from asynchronous models. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 2015; 12 (106): 20150178 DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2015.0178

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University of York. "Social structure 'helps birds avoid a collision course'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 May 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150521094917.htm>.
University of York. (2015, May 21). Social structure 'helps birds avoid a collision course'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 24, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150521094917.htm
University of York. "Social structure 'helps birds avoid a collision course'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150521094917.htm (accessed May 24, 2017).

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