Dynamic scaling in natural swarms

Collective behavior in biological systems presents theoretical challenges beyond the borders of classical statistical physics. The lack of concepts such as scaling and renormalization is particularly problematic, as it forces us to negotiate details whose relevance is often hard to assess. In an attempt to improve this situation, we have presented experimental evidence of the emergence of dynamic scaling laws in natural swarms of midges. We found that spatio–temporal correlation functions in different swarms can be rescaled by using a single characteristic time, which grows with the correlation length with a dynamical critical exponent z ≈ 1, a value not found in any other standard statistical model. To check whether out–of–equilibrium effects may be responsible for this anomalous exponent, we run simulations of the simplest model of self–propelled particles and find z ≈ 2, suggesting that natural swarms belong to a novel dynamic universality class. This conclusion is strengthened by experimental evidence of the presence of non–dissipative modes in the relaxation, indicating that previously overlooked inertial effects are needed to describe swarm dynamics. The absence of a purely dissipative regime suggests that natural swarms undergo a near–critical censorship of hydrodynamics.

Contact person: Andrea Cavagna, ISC Rome