The advantages of animals foraging in an orderly group are well-known, but research by the University of Bristol has found an element of unruly adventure can help fish in the quest for food.
The study, published today in Nature Communications, sheds new light on why fish shoals frequently switch between behaving in states of extreme order and disorder. It found certain individuals perform better when the group is disordered because they are more observant and faster to find sources of food, while others excel by following the orderly crowd and exploiting their more proactive peers.
Lead author Dr. Hannah MacGregor, Research Associate in the School of Biological Sciences, said: “We know how animals behave in collective formations, but the benefits of this are less well understood. The findings of our study are intriguing because they reveal why swarm-like fish shoals are in a constant state of flux, as each fish vies for order or disorder to hold sway depending on the state in which they individually perform best.