When birds fly in huge flocks and perform collective movements in the sky, that is a breathtaking and mesmerizing scene to watch. The same goes for fishes swamping a region in the ocean with their collective movement. From bacterial biofilms to human cities, the collective movements of organisms not only amaze us but also have been a center of research for scientists. Researchers have been long studying how individual organisms form groups and affect each other’s behavior. Now, new research by scientists at Oregon State University and Cornell University in the United States uncovers a previously unknown effect of collective behavior. Scientists have found that collective movements of organisms can stabilize ecosystems in an astonishing way.
According to the research, the collective behavior of members of a species not only makes the ecosystem more resilient but also allows other species to coexist depending upon the same resource, in turn increasing biodiversity. To understand the significance of organisms’ collective behaviour, scientists ran simulations of an ecosystem starting with two generic consumer species sharing a resource as their primary food. Taking multiple variables, such as per-capita consumption and consumer mortality rate into account, the simulations provide possible scenarios of the ecosystem giving scientists the ability to turn the collective behavior of species on and off from the experiment.
When scientists compared the ecosystems with and without collective behavior, they found that “adding collective behavior was a game-changer in the simulations” says Ben Dalziel, one of the authors of the study in a statement. According to Dalziel, adding collective behavior “stabilized ecosystems that ecological and evolutionary theory clearly say should not otherwise be stable.”
According to scientists, the findings are interesting because complex ecosystems are not bound to be stable. Multiple species in an environment feeding on the same finite resource are likely to collapse an ecosystem. However, this finding shows that “real ecosystems must have some kind of special sauce that allows them to persist with a diverse array of species,” adds Dalziel. The study was published on August 12 in Nature Ecology and Evolution.