Social tipping points in animal societies

Jonathan N. Pruitt, Andrew Berdahl, Christina Riehl, Noa Pinter-Wollman, Holly V. Moeller, Elizabeth G. Pringle, Lucy M. Aplin, Elva J.H. Robinson, Jacopo Grilli, Pamela Yeh, Van M. Savage, Michael H. Price, Joshua Garland, Ian C. Gilby, Margaret C. Crofoot, Grant N. Doering, Elizabeth A. Hobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Animal social groups are complex systems that are likely to exhibit tipping points-which are defined as drastic shifts in the dynamics of systems that arise from small changes in environmental conditions-yet this concept has not been carefully applied to these systems. Here, we summarize the concepts behind tipping points and describe instances in which they are likely to occur in animal societies. We also offer ways in which the study of social tipping points can open up new lines of inquiry in behavioural ecology and generate novel questions, methods, and approaches in animal behaviour and other fields, including community and ecosystem ecology. While some behaviours of living systems are hard to predict, we argue that probing tipping points across animal societies and across tiers of biological organization-populations, communities, ecosystems-may help to reveal principles that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20181282
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1887
StatePublished - Sep 26 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • collapse
  • complex system
  • cooperation
  • critical point
  • hysteresis
  • social network


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