The hypnotic synchronized flashing of fireflies, the spectacular mass spawning events in some coral reefs, are but a few well known examples.
From a physicist's perspective, the principles that lead to synchronization are well understood for periodic systems.
But in recent years the theory has taken on a whole new dimension with the realization that erratic and chaotic systems can also synchronize, although there have been few, if any, clear-cut biological examples.
Researchers for Israel have now conducted a surprising analysis of erratic synchronization in the activity patterns of the gregarious goat fish Parupeneus forskalii from the Red Sea. Although activity levels of the fish vary wildly in time and intensity, school-forming individuals are nevertheless nearly always collectively coordinated.
They argue in their paper published in the February issue of Ecology Letters that this synchronization strategy should increase overall food catch as the fish scavenge for prey.