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Keywords:

  • huddling;
  • self-organization;
  • energy

Abstract

Huddling is a grouping behavior where animals maintain close bodily contact and save energy. We tested the hypothesis that this thermoregulatory behavior behaves as a system with continuous (second-order phase) transition called critical when the environmental temperature (driving parameter) is near a critical value. To do so, we followed theoretical and experimental approaches, examining data from geometrical models, metabolic rate during huddling in small mammals, and also conducting an experiment on thermoregulatory huddling behavior with white mice. Our results support all predictions for systems under continuous-phase transition triggered by low temperatures, a phenomenon reported for first time in a biological system. We suggest that huddling behavior in social animals, a recognized adaptive behavior, may be considered a self-organized system coupled with an external driving parameter. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Complexity, 2011