Distinguishing Social from Nonsocial Navigation in Moving Animal Groups

Nikolai W. F. Bode, Daniel W. Franks, A. Jamie Wood, Julius J. B. Piercy, Darren P. Croft, Edward A. Codling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many animals, such as migrating shoals of fish, navigate in groups. Knowing the mechanisms involved in animal navigation is important when it comes to explaining navigation accuracy, dispersal patterns, population and evolutionary dynamics, and consequently, the design of conservation strategies. When navigating toward a common target, animals could interact socially by sharing available information directly or indirectly, or each individual could navigate by itself and aggregations may not disperse because all animals are moving toward the same target. Here we present an analysis technique that uses individual movement trajectories to determine the extent to which individuals in navigating groups interact socially, given knowledge of their target. The basic idea of our approach is that the movement directions of individuals arise from a combination of responses to the environment and to other individuals. We estimate the relative importance of these responses, distinguishing between social and nonsocial interactions. We develop and test our method, using simulated groups, and we demonstrate its applicability to empirical data in a case study on groups of guppies moving toward shelter in a tank. Our approach is generic and can be extended to different scenarios of animal group movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-632
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


  • animal behavior,
  • animal movement,
  • sociality,
  • animal migration,
  • group navigation,
  • collective behavior

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