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Journal Article

Hierarchical approach for comparing collective behavior across scales: cellular systems to honey bee colonies


Vishwakarma,  Medhavi
Cellular Biophysics, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Max Planck Society;

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Davidson, J. D., Vishwakarma, M., & Smith, M. L. (2021). Hierarchical approach for comparing collective behavior across scales: cellular systems to honey bee colonies. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9: 581222, pp. 1-11. doi:10.3389/fevo.2021.581222.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-DF80-D
How individuals in a group lead to collective behavior is a fundamental question across biological systems, from cellular systems, to animal groups, to human organizations. Recent technological advancements have enabled an unprecedented increase in our ability to collect, quantify, and analyze how individual responses lead to group behavior. However, despite a wealth of data demonstrating that collective behavior exists across biological scales, it is difficult to make general statements that apply in different systems. In this perspective, we present a cohesive framework for comparing groups across different levels of biological organization, using an intermediate link of “collective mechanisms” that connects individual responses to group behavior. Using this approach we demonstrate that an effective way of comparing different groups is with an analysis hierarchy that asks complementary questions, including how individuals in a group implement various collective mechanisms, and how these various mechanisms are used to achieve group function. We apply this framework to compare two collective systems—cellular systems and honey bee colonies. Using a case study of a response to a disturbance, we compare and contrast collective mechanisms used in each system. We then discuss how inherent differences in group structure and physical constraints lead to different combinations of collective mechanisms to solve a particular problem. Together, we demonstrate how a hierarchical approach can be used to compare and contrast different systems, lead to new hypotheses in each system, and form a basis for common research questions in collective behavior.