Skip to main content

Data from: Social conformity and propagation of information in collective u-turns of fish schools

Cite this dataset

Lecheval, Valentin et al. (2018). Data from: Social conformity and propagation of information in collective u-turns of fish schools [Dataset]. Dryad.


Moving animal groups such as schools of fish or flocks of birds often undergo sudden collective changes of their travelling direction as a consequence of stochastic fluctuations in heading of the individuals. However, the mechanisms by which these behavioural fluctuations arise at the individual level and propagate within a group are still unclear. In the present study, we combine an experimental and theoretical approach to investigate spontaneous collective U-turns in groups of rummy-nose tetra (Hemigrammus rhodostomus) swimming in a ringshaped tank. U-turns imply that fish switch their heading between the clockwise and anticlockwise direction. We reconstruct trajectories of individuals moving alone and in groups of different sizes. We show that the group decreases its swimming speed before a collective U-turn. This is in agreement with previous theoretical predictions showing that speed decrease facilitates an amplification of fluctuations in heading in the group, which can trigger U-turns. These collective U-turns are mostly initiated by individuals at the front of the group. Once an individual has initiated a U-turn, the new direction propagates through the group from front to back without amplification or dampening, resembling the dynamics of falling dominoes. The mean time between collective U-turns sharply increases as the size of the group increases. We develop an Ising spin model integrating anisotropic and asymmetrical interactions between fish and their tendency to follow the majority of their neighbours nonlinearly (social conformity). The model quantitatively reproduces key features of the dynamics and the frequency of collective U-turns observed in experiments.

Usage notes