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Starlings in flight: understanding patterns of animal group movements

Start: 1/1/2005
End: 12/31/2007

Project Status History
unknown 1/1/2005
 Funding Programmes
NEST-2003-1 Adventure activities Specific Targeted Research Project 1160000euro

Systems composed of a large number of interacting heterogeneous agents often display complex properties that cannot be deduced in a simple way by studying the behaviour of single agents. This research aims to study three-dimensional complex pattern formation, in order to get a strong insight into features that may be relevant in more complex situations where the components move in a high dimensional configuration space. Animal group movements look very promising in this respect and we will concentrate our attention on the flocking behaviour of starlings, representing perhaps the best widely known example for the above class of behaviours. We will study the reasons of particular forms of flocking with the aim of understanding the collective movement of the flock and its form in relation to the behaviour of the individuals of the group. Our goals are the following:a) By getting three-dimensional reconstructions of their movements, we aim to characterize experimentally in a quantitative and qualitative way these movements. We plan to monitor the flock movements in space with the resolution of a single bird, in order to get information on possible leadership of a few birds. Data taken in aviaries will be used for comparison.b) We want to construct new models that give rise to such complex group behaviour. The experimental data should be crucial in inspiring these models and to discriminate possible differences among them.c) We intend to interpret the biological meaning and relevance of the formation of these patterns.d) As far as collective movements are common phenomena also in human behaviour (particular relevant in economics) we would like to explore the possibility of exporting the models and the techniques to economic collective choices. In this way we try to develop ways to investigate the reasons of social events, e.g. fashions, to understand socio-economic herding, and possibly to devise methods to tame dangerous excessive market fluctuations.

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