When individual sheep feels threatened it moves constantly toward the centre of the flock while the flock as a whole move away from the threat suggests data. "It's kind of continuously folding in on itself," King says. The researchers were able to recreate that folding pattern using simple math.
Some members of the flock do seem to come out better than others, King added. Whether that's a matter of luck or ability the researchers can't yet say, though they are giving the sheep physical fitness and personality tests to look for predictable patterns. They also want to sort out the "rules" the sheep follow in order to move in such a remarkable and orchestrated way.
It turns out the new findings might even shed light on neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's, King says, noting that sheep are a popular model for the study of that devastating human condition. "We wanted to establish a baseline of 'normal' sheep social behavior, from which others can pinpoint the onset and progression of abnormal behaviors that may be associated with locomotor or cognitive deficits," King says.