Discoveries
08.08.2017

Lens of Time: Secrets of Schooling

Shimmering schools of fish have dazzled scientists for centuries with their synchronized maneuvers. Now, high-speed video is revealing how—and why—they do it.

Collective behavior is embodied in swarms of insects, flocks of birds, herds of antelope, and schools of fish. In each of these cases, individuals move through their environment and respond to threats and opportunities almost simultaneously, forming an undulating enclave that seems to operate as a single entity. Such coordinated movement requires the rapid and efficient transfer of information among individuals, but understanding exactly how this information spreads through the group has long eluded scientists. Studying this behavior in schools of fish has been incredibly challenging, because the cues that drive it occur at lightning speed, come from multiple directions and sources, and of course because all of it takes place underwater. Now, Iain Couzin and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology at the University of Konstanz, Germany are using new observation techniques and technologies—including high-speed video, motion-tracking software, and advanced statistical modeling—to reveal the mysterious mechanics of schooling fish. Their findings may shed light on the evolution and benefits of collective behavior across the animal kingdom.

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Spine Films is a San Francisco Bay Area production company specializing in international science, nature, environment, and arts media. They search for stories that provide opportunities to find the magical in the mundane, and that celebrate the beautiful intricacy of our Universe. You can find their films and stories on PBS, Discovery Networks, National Geographic and on websites and broadcast stations around the world.

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