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NIMBioS Investigative Workshop

Synchronous Activity in Biological Systems

Workshop Group photo.

Topic: Synchrony in Biological Systems Across Multiple Scales

Meeting dates: April 11-13, 2011

Alan Hastings (Environmental Science and Policy, Univ. of California, Davis, CA)
Tim Lewis (Dept. of Mathematics, Univ. of California, Davis, CA)
Michael Bonsall (Dept. of Zoology, Univ. of Oxford, Oxford, UK)

Objectives. Synchronous oscillatory activity and phase-locking in general are universal phenomena that occur in biological systems ranging from the level of intracellular dynamics to population dynamics across thousands of kilometers. The study of synchrony from a mathematical standpoint has had a very long history going back at least as far as Huygens in the 1600's. However, there are still many unanswered questions involving synchronization that are of central biological importance. The importance of synchrony in many different fields of biological and physical sciences has led to large bodies of literature on synchrony that have little cross-referencing. This workshop brought together a diverse group of researchers from mathematics and statistics and the biological sciences including ecology and neuroscience. We explored how ideas about the study of synchrony in one field can provide novel insights into questions of synchrony in another field. We also identified what are real gaps in the theory of synchrony from a biological perspective and identified where progress is possible.

Click here for more information on workshop's central theme.

Evaluation report (PDF)



Overview: What Is Synchrony? (Alan Hastings)

Synchrony & Ecological Dynamics (Michael Bonsall)

Synchrony, Phase-Shift Synchrony, and Synchony-Breaking (Marty Golubitsky)

Spatio-Temporal Statistics (Noel Cressie)

Synchrony in Neural Systems (Tim Lewis)
     Movies (click images below to play):

LIFfastEsynch.mpg image. LIFslowEasynch.mpg image. synchrony/ image.
Fast excitatory synapses (33 sec) Slow excitatory synapses (50 sec) Topological target patterns (40 sec)

Firefly photo.

Summary. TBA

Evaluation Report

Background Reading (and Viewing) Material

Steven Strogatz on Sync (20 minute video). Mathematician Steven Strogatz shows how flocks of creatures (like birds, fireflies and fish) manage to synchronize and act as a unit -- when no one's giving orders. The powerful tendency extends into the realm of objects, too.

Liebhold, A., W. D. Koenig, et al. (2004). Spatial synchrony in population dynamics. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 35:467-490. [Download PDF]

M. A. Schwemmer and T.J. Lewis (2011) The Theory of Weakly Coupled Oscillators. Chapter in book: PRCs in Neuroscience: Theory, Experiment and Analysis (eds. N.Schultheiss, A.Prinz, R. Butera). Springer. (preprint) [Download PDF].

Strogatz, S. H. (2000). From Kuramoto to Crawford: exploring the onset of synchronization in populations of coupled oscillators. Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena 143(1-4):1-20. [Online]

Stewart, I., M. Golubitsky, et al. (2003). Symmetry groupoids and patterns of synchrony in coupled cell networks. SIAM J. Appl. Dynam. Sys 2(4):609–646. [Download PDF]
(Biologically oriented readers should skim this, rather than get lost in the details!)



Gilman RT, Fabina NS, Abbott KC, Rafferty NE. 2012. Evolution of plant-pollinator mutualisms in response to climate change. Evolutionary Applications, 5(1): 2-16. [Online]

Logdberg F, Wennergren U. 2012. Spectral color, synchrony, and extinction risk. Theoretical Ecology, 5(4): 545-554. [Online]


Cressie N. August 2011. Spatio-temporal statistics. CSIRO Workshop on Statistics for Spatio-Temporal Data, CSIRO, Canberra, Australia.

NIMBioS Investigative Workshops focus on broad topics or a set of related topics, summarizing/synthesizing the state of the art and identifying future directions. Workshops have up to 35 participants. Organizers and key invited researchers make up half the participants; the remaining participants are filled through open application from the scientific community. Open applicants selected to attend are notified by NIMBioS within two weeks of the application deadline. Investigative Workshops have the potential for leading to one or more future Working Groups. Individuals with a strong interest in the topic, including post-docs and graduate students, are encouraged to apply. If needed, NIMBioS can provide support (travel, meals, lodging) for Workshop attendees, whether from a non-profit or for-profit organization.

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From 2008 until early 2021, NIMBioS was supported by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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