Synchrony and rhythm interaction: from the brain to behavioural ecology

Michael D Greenfield*, Henkjan Honing, Sonja A. Kotz, Andrea Ravignani

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialAcademicpeer-review


This theme issue assembles current studies that ask how and why precise synchronization and related forms of rhythm interaction are expressed in a wide range of behaviour. The studies cover human activity, with an emphasis on music, and social behaviour, reproduction and communication in non-human animals. In most cases, the temporally aligned rhythms have short-from several seconds down to a fraction of a second-periods and are regulated by central nervous system pacemakers, but interactions involving rhythms that are 24 h or longer and originate in biological clocks also occur. Across this spectrum of activities, species and time scales, empirical work and modelling suggest that synchrony arises from a limited number of coupled-oscillator mechanisms with which individuals mutually entrain. Phylogenetic distribution of these common mechanisms points towards convergent evolution. Studies of animal communication indicate that many synchronous interactions between the signals of neighbouring individuals are specifically favoured by selection. However, synchronous displays are often emergent properties of entrainment between signalling individuals, and in some situations, the very signallers who produce a display might not gain any benefit from the collective timing of their production. This article is part of the theme issue 'Synchrony and rhythm interaction: from the brain to behavioural ecology'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200324
Number of pages7
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-biological Sciences
Issue number1835
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2021


  • animal signalling
  • chorus
  • collective behaviour
  • communication
  • coupled oscillator
  • musicality

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