From individuals to aggregations: The interplay between behavior and physics

G. Flierl, D. Grünbaum, Simon Asher Levin, D. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

309 Scopus citations


This paper analyses the processes by which organisms form groups and how social forces interact with environmental variability and transport. For aquatic organisms, the latter is especially important - will sheared or turbulent flows disrupt organism groups? To analyse such problems, we use individual-based models to study the environmental and social forces leading to grouping. The models are then embedded in turbulent flow fields to gain an understanding of the interplay between the forces acting on the individuals and the transport induced by the fluid motion. Instead of disruption of groups, we find that flows often enhance grouping by increasing the encounter rate among groups and thereby promoting merger into larger groups; the effect breaks down for strong flows. We discuss the transformation of individual-based models into continuum models for the density of organisms. A number of subtle difficulties arise in this process; however, we find that a direct comparison between the individual model and the continuum model is quite favorable. Finally, we examine the dynamics of group statistics and give an example of building an equation for the spatial and temporal variations of the group-size distribution from individual-based simulations. These studies lay the groundwork for incorporating the effects of grouping into models of the large scale distributions of organisms as well as for examining the evolutionary consequences of group formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-454
Number of pages58
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 21 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Applied Mathematics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation


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