Local interactions and global properties of wild, free-ranging stickleback shoals

Ashley Ward, Timothy Schaerf, James Herbert-Read, Lesley Morrell, David Sumpter, Mike M. Webster

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26 Citations (Scopus)
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Collective motion describes the global properties of moving groups of animals and the self-organized, coordinated patterns of individual behaviour that produce them. We examined the group-level patterns and local interactions between individuals in wild, free-ranging shoals of three-spine sticklebacks, Gasterosteus aculeatus. Our data reveal that the highest frequencies of near-neighbour encounters occur at between one and two body lengths from a focal fish, with the peak frequency alongside a focal individual. Fish also show the highest alignment with these laterally placed individuals, and generally with animals in front of themselves. Furthermore, fish are more closely matched in size, speed and orientation to their near neighbours than to more distant neighbours, indicating local organization within groups. Among the group level properties reported here, we find that polarization is strongly influenced by group speed, but also the variation in speed among individuals and the nearest neighbour distances of group members. While we find no relationship between group order and group size, we do find that larger groups tend to have lower nearest neighbour distances, which in turn may be important in maintaining group order.
Original languageEnglish
Article number170043
Number of pages11
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2017


  • Collective behaviour
  • Schooling
  • Grouping


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