Scuba Diver Ocean Planet - - From The Editor -

The mes­meris­ing, mys­te­ri­ous spec­ta­cle of thou­sands of fish mov­ing as one can be ex­plained by a few rel­a­tively sim­ple rules

It’s a hyp­notic, awe-in­spir­ing sight– thou­sands of fish mov­ing in sync, as if with one mind. School­ing fish is a phe­nom­e­non that arises from some­thing known as “swarm in­tel­li­gence”, in which in­de­pen­dent units spon­ta­neously form or­gan­ised struc­tures or pat­terns. But how ex­actly does it work? The process is far sim­pler than you might imag­ine.


It’s a form of aquatic an­ar­chy – in a school of fish there is no sin­gle leader, no one in­di­vid­ual con­trol­ling or de­ter­min­ing the di­rec­tion or struc­ture of the col­lec­tive. In a school, de­ci­sions are made ac­cord­ing to the col­lec­tive be­hav­iour of self-or­gan­ised sys­tems. Self-or­gan­i­sa­tion is when struc­tures ap­pear at the global level of a sys­tem as a re­sult of the in­ter­ac­tions of its lower level com­po­nents (Bon­abeau et al., Swarm In­tel­li­gence, 1999); th­ese pat­terns on the global level emerge as in­tel­li­gent ones, but are prob­a­bly un­known to each in­di­vid­ual agent. It has been found that each fish is only re­spond­ing to the be­hav­iour of its near­est neigh­bour at any one time. Re­search pub­lished in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences shows that fish co­or­di­nate their move­ments ac­cord­ing to a sim­ple set of rules, us­ing mainly vis­ual clues, and ad­just­ing their po­si­tion based on that of their neigh­bours. Ac­cord­ing to the lead re­searcher, James Her­bert-Read of Syd­ney Univer­sity’s school of bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ences, the rules in­clude ac­cel­er­at­ing to­wards neigh­bours that are far away and de­cel­er­at­ing when neigh­bours are right in front. They also found that a fish only re­sponds to a sin­gle near­est neigh­bour at any one time. So, when any fish finds it­self close to a preda­tor, it nat­u­rally moves away from it, its neigh­bours then fol­low suit, and the in­for­ma­tion is passed, fish to fish, be­tween the whole school.

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