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New model reveals how huddling penguins share heat fairly
Date:11/16/2012

tural differences in the size and cold tolerance of individual penguins, the modeled huddles closely matched real huddles.

The researchers were surprised the model showed the penguins shared warmth nearly equally among themselves. "Even if penguins are only selfish, only trying to find the best spot for themselves and not thinking about their community, there is still equality in the amount of time that each penguin spends exposed to the wind," says Blanchette. Not all instances of selfish behavior result in such fair outcomes, he notes. "A penguin huddle is a self-sufficient system in which the animals rely on each other for shelter, and I think that is what makes it fair. If you have some kind of obstacle, like a wall, then I think it would stop being fair," Blanchette says.

Currently the researchers would like feedback from biologists before they further refine the model. Gathering experimental data, however, is difficult. "Penguins huddle during blizzards, when the conditions are horrible, and if you're going to collect data you're also going to be in a blizzard in horrible conditions," Blanchette points out. The mathematicians hope their work might serve as a guide for scientists in the field, helping them to know which observations to make to test the model.

Blanchette says his group may also investigate how to adapt the model to describe other biological organisms, such as certain bacteria, that move as a group in response to an outside stimulus like food or the presence of a toxin. Eventually, concepts from the model may guide the design of swarming robots that shelter each other in harsh conditions. But for now Blanchette is enjoying a more immediate side benefit of the research: "Nearly everybody seems to love penguins and not enough people love math," he says. "If we use math to study penguins we could potentially teach more people to love math too!"

Paper: "Modeling huddling penguins" is published in PLOS ONE a
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Contact: Charles Blue
dfdmedia@aps.org
301-209-3088
American Institute of Physics
Source:Eurekalert

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