Intent matters: how flow and forms of information impact collective navigation

T. M. Hodgson*, S. T. Johnston, M. Ottobre, K. J. Painter

*Corresponding author for this work

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The phenomenon of collective navigation has received considerable interest in recent years. A common line of thinking, backed by theoretical studies, is that collective navigation can improve navigation efficiency through the ‘many-wrongs’ principle, whereby individual error is reduced by comparing the headings of neighbours. When navigation takes place in a flowing environment, each individual’s trajectory is influenced by drift. Consequently, a potential discrepancy emerges between an individual’s intended heading and its actual heading. In this study, we develop a theoretical model to explore whether collective navigation benefits are altered according to the form of heading information transmitted between neighbours. Navigation based on each individual’s intended heading is found to confer robust advantages across a wide spectrum of flows, via both a marked improvement in migration times and a capacity for a group to overcome flows unnavigable by solitary individuals. Navigation based on individual’s actual headings is far less effective, only offering an improvement under highly favourable currents. For many currents, sharing actual heading information can even lead to journey times that exceed those of individual navigators.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20230356
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number207
Early online date11 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • navigation
  • migration
  • communication
  • decision making
  • collective behaviour
  • random walk

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