Networks in Nature – Writing Prompt

The theme of Sydney University’s 2021 Anthology is ‘Networks’. Students, staff and alumni are encouraged to interpret this theme in their own way. While we often associate the term ‘networks’ with technology and the ways we, as humans, connect with the help of technology, networks are also ever present in nature and the world around us. The natural world is made up of an incalculable number of complex systems, or networks, from a flock of birds, mushroom mycelium, schools of fish, ant hills and human brains. All these entities have a complex co-operative behaviour, the ability to pass information and energy, feedback, and hierarchal structures, or in other words, they are networks.   

A picture containing nature, reef, colorful, ocean floor

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Fish networks 

Researchers have recently discovered that fish form social networks. Fish aren’t using these networks to make friends, but more as a survival mechanism. Individual fish use these networks to monitor other fishes’ movements which can help them determine whether an area or food source is safe. These networks are not only benefiting the fish themselves but also the entire ecosystem. One study gives an example of fish using these networks to determine whether a certain type of algae is safe to eat, algae that would otherwise choke the coral reefs. By eating these algae, the coral is then clear and can harvest the suns energy and continue to grow. This is otherwise known as symbiosis. However, overfishing is seriously damaging and breaking up these social networks between fish and the effects are moving across the whole ecosystem.  

Social-ecological networks 

Recently, scientists have been looking at the connections between our social, or human behaviours and the ecological environment, forming social-ecological networks. The Stockholm Resilience Centre is looking at the individual behaviours of different entities (birds, trees, farmers, fish, tourists, etc.) and how they adapt to changes in their social and ecological environment and how their social-ecological networks change as a result. These social-ecological systems are constantly changing and adapting to each other. Sustainability is a key driver behind looking at these social-ecological networks. For example, a fisheries company can look at their practices from both a social level on their end, and an ecological level from the fishes’ end, and then determine the impacts they have on each other. By determining this social-ecological network they can then adapt and make changes that will directly benefit this network and in turn, hopefully lower the company’s overall environmental impact.  

These two brief examples of networks in nature are just a small look into the different ways this year’s theme, networks, can be interpreted. Rather than just looking in the many networks of the world wide web, maybe instead investigate the wide world around you.  

To submit your work on Networks, click here.

Submissions can be in the form of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art and photography.


Stockholm Resilience Centre. (2017). Understanding social-ecological systems. YouTube.  

Graham, W. (2014). Nature’s Interconnected Complex Systems. Retrieved at,%2C%20feedback%2C%20and%20hierarchal%20structures

Simon, M. (2020). Fish Form Social Networks – and They’re Actually Good. Wired. Retrieved at