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School rules

Fish swimming together appear to focus on nearest neighbor or two

4:48pm, November 8, 2011

To avoid bumping into each other, fish swimming in a school behave a lot like drivers on the road — ignoring most of the other fish and changing speed based on the movements of their nearest neighbors.

Two recent studies, including one published November 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have revealed this unprecedented fish-eye view of the world. But they disagree about how many of its neighbors each animal in the crowd keeps an eye on.

Despite that disagreement, “this work gives us a foundation by which we can understand how collective behaviors that give these animals remarkable capabilities evolved,” says Iain Couzin, a mathematical biologist at Princeton University. His team published its work describing fish behavior online July 27 in the same journal.

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