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Out-of-Sync ‘Loners’ May Secretly Protect Orderly Swarms

There are always individuals that don’t participate in the collective behavior — the odd bird or insect or mammal that remains just a little out of sync with the rest; the stray cell or bacterium that seems to have missed some call to arms. Researchers usually pay them little heed, dismissing them as insignificant outliers. But a handful of scientists have started to suspect otherwise. Their hunch is that these individuals are signs of something deeper, a broader evolutionary strategy at work. Now, new research validating that hypothesis has opened up a very different way of thinking about the study of collective behavior.

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