This book has progressed from coming together through information transfer, decision-making, moving together, synchronization, structures, and regulation to finally arrive at complicated interactions. This progression has taken on increasingly complex aspects of collective animal behavior. Each chapter has attempted to unify group behavior of different species in these different situations and explain similarities in the underlying function and mechanisms. I will close this book with a brief discussion of how I believe we should think of the science of collective animal behavior and suggest some future directions for research.
This book grew from a review article I wrote three years ago on “principles of collective animal behaviour” (Sumpter 2006). There I outlined several guiding principles such as “positive feedback,” “individual variation,” etc., which underlie many aspects of collective animal behavior. These principles have again appeared at many points within this book.
Having a set of such principles is useful for grouping and categorizing ideas and more quickly understanding new systems. Here, I have chosen a slightly different grouping of ideas under the different chapter headings, concentrating more on similarities between systems in spatial or temporal organization. Again, these chapters provide a way of unifying our understanding of different systems.
Another way of unifying different systems is through mathematical modeling. One of the most remarkable features of the study of collective animal behavior is the applicability of mathematical models. This is made all the more remarkable when we consider that animals are not as simple as physical particles. Individuals vary and experiments always involve intrinsic variation and noise. Despite, and sometimes because of this variation, it is possible to use one model to make predictions about very different types of groups.