Tuesday, July 23, 2013

1307.5631 (A. Attanasi et al.)

Wild swarms of midges linger at the edge of an ordering phase transition    [PDF]

A. Attanasi, A. Cavagna, L. Del Castello, I. Giardina, S. Melillo, L. Parisi, O. Pohl, B. Rossaro, E. Shen, E. Silvestri, M. Viale
The most notable hallmark of collective behaviour in biological systems is the emergence of order: individuals polarize their state, giving the stunning impression that the group behaves as one. Mating swarms of mosquitoes and midges, however, do not display global order and it is therefore unclear whether swarms are a true instance of collective behaviour or a mere epiphenomenon of the independent response of each insect to an environmental stimulus. Here, we experimentally study wild swarms of midges by measuring their susceptibility, namely the capability to collectively respond to an external perturbation. The susceptibility is way larger than that of a noninteracting system, indicating the presence of strong coordination, and it increases sharply with the swarm density, a distinctive mark of an incipient ordering phase transition. We find that swarms live at the near-critical edge of this transition, suggesting that their size and density are tuned to maximize collective response.
View original: http://arxiv.org/abs/1307.5631

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