The research in the Couzin laboratory focuses on revealing the principles that underlie collective animal behavior. Understanding how social influence shapes biological processes is a central challenge, essential for achieving progress in a variety of fields ranging from the organization and evolution of coordinated collective action among cells, or animals, to the dynamics of information exchange in human societies. By developing an integrated theoretical and experimental research program we aim to explore functional properties of groups in a context that can reveal how, and why, social behavior has evolved.
Our experimental work in both the laboratory and field is characterized by a highly quantitative approach, such as our development and use of new imaging technologies that allow us to investigate behavior at multiple scales, simultaneously. We employ both numerical and analytical approaches in our development of theory. This has allowed us to explore the causes and consequences of social behaviors over ecological and evolutionary timescales, and to identify principles in common among what may initially appear to be disparate biological processes.
While much research on collective behavior has been centered on the eusocial insects, and especially ants, comparatively little is known about the processes that have driven the evolution of coordinated behavior among animal groups in which members are of low relatedness, such as swarming insects, schooling fish and flocking birds. Yet such groups are ubiquitous and present a great opportunity to integrate our understanding of the reciprocal causation among the proximate and ultimate factors that underlie functional collective behavior
The research in the Couzin Lab relates to a wide range of areas of scientific inquiry including behavior, ecology, psychology, statistical physics, network theory, self-organization, complexity studies, engineering and evolutionary biology. Collective behavior is fundamental to biology, from the structure and functioning of tissues, to that of societies; insights and paradigms resulting from the study of collective dynamics can therefore help reveal new and unifying principles, as well as important differences, across scales of biological organization. Furthermore this ubiquity and importance, combined with a captivating visual nature, makes the study of collective animal behavior a distinctive opportunity to engage students and the public, at all levels, in issues that are of considerable importance to both science and society.
Members of our lab have come from diverse backgrounds including behavioral ecology, architecture, computational and experimental neuroscience, physics, computer science, applied mathematics and psychology. In addition we often host visiting graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from across the globe.