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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.

Scientists have simulated the patterns created by fish, birds, bacteria and other living organisms that move in groups. Typically, these computer simul

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