Boundary information inflow enhances correlation in flocking

Andrea Cavagna, Irene Giardina, Francesco Ginelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


The most conspicuous trait of collective animal behavior is the emergence of highly ordered structures. Less obvious to the eye, but perhaps more profound a signature of self-organization, is the presence of long-range spatial correlations. Experimental data on starling flocks in 3D show that the exponent ruling the decay of the velocity correlation function, C(r)~1/r¿, is extremely small, ¿ 1. This result can neither be explained by equilibrium field theory nor by off-equilibrium theories and simulations of active systems. Here, by means of numerical simulations and theoretical calculations, we show that a dynamical field applied to the boundary of a set of Heisenberg spins on a 3D lattice gives rise to a vanishing exponent ¿, as in starling flocks. The effect of the dynamical field is to create an information inflow from border to bulk that triggers long-range spin-wave modes, thus giving rise to an anomalously long-ranged correlation. The biological origin of this phenomenon can be either exogenous - information produced by environmental perturbations is transferred from boundary to bulk of the flock - or endogenous - the flock keeps itself in a constant state of dynamical excitation that is beneficial to correlation and collective response.
Original languageEnglish
Article number168107
Number of pages5
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2013


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