Ontogeny of collective behaviour

Isabella Benter Muratore, Simon Garnier

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


During their lifetime, superorganisms, like unitary organisms, undergo transformations that change the machinery of their collective behaviour. Here, we suggest that these transformations are largely understudied and propose that more systematic research into the ontogeny of collective behaviours is needed if we hope to better understand the link between proximate behavioural mechanisms and the development of collective adaptive functions. In particular, certain social insects engage in self-assemblage, forming dynamic and physically connected architectures with striking similarities to developing multicellular organisms, making them good model systems for ontogenetic studies of collective behaviour. However, exhaustive time series and three-dimensional data are required to thoroughly characterize the different life stages of the collective structures and the transitions between these stages. The well-established fields of embryology and developmental biology offer practical tools and theoretical frameworks that could speed up the acquisition of new knowledge about the formation, development, maturity and dissolution of social insect self-assemblages and, by extension, other superorganismal behaviours. We hope that this review will encourage an expansion of the ontogenetic perspective in the field of collective behaviour and, in particular, in self-assemblage research, which has far-reaching applications in robotics, computer science and regenerative medicine. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'Collective behaviour through time'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20220065
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1874
StatePublished - Apr 10 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • collective architecture
  • collective behaviour
  • development
  • ontogeny
  • self-assemblage
  • social insects


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