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Math describes sheep herd fluctuations

Equations quantify periodic spreading, clustering

3:00pm, September 28, 2015
Merino sheep

ALL TOGETHER NOW   In a herd, Merino sheep periodically spread apart and cluster back together. Scientists have developed equations that can describe this behavior. 

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There’s something in the way sheep move.

In a herd, Merino sheep follow a predictable pattern of spreading out and clustering together. Now scientists have developed equations that can describe those movements. The sheep’s choreography may allow them to balance their needs for food and protection, researchers report September 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is the first quantitative study of this kind of behavior,”says study coauthor Francesco Ginelli, a collective animal behavior and active-matter researcher at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Ginelli and his colleagues developed equations that describe how the sheep move and respond to their neighbors. The results suggest that a herd of sheep may exist in a delicate balance, close to a “tipping point” between dispersing and

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