Home > Papers from 2014 > Optimality in ants?

Optimality in ants?

In behavioural ecology there is a long history of foraging models for individuals and groups. Here we see a numerical investigation of the dynamics of foraging efficiency for colonies who share a home. If I’m honest, the conclusions seem like common sense, though I would love for a more mathematial mind to explain the insight that we gain from this modelling. Anyone?

Abstract: “The study of the foraging behavior of group animals (especially ants) is of practical ecological importance, but it also contributes to the development of widely applicable optimization problem-solving techniques. Biologists have discovered that single ants exhibit low-dimensional deterministic-chaotic activities. However, the influences of the nest, ants’ physical abilities, and ants’ knowledge (or experience) on foraging behavior have received relatively little attention in studies of the collective behavior of ants. This paper provides new insights into basic mechanisms of effective foraging for social insects or group animals that have a home. We propose that the whole foraging process of ants is controlled by three successive strategies: hunting, homing, and path building. A mathematical model is developed to study this complex scheme. We show that the transition from chaotic to periodic regimes observed in our model results from an optimization scheme for group animals with a home. According to our investigation, the behavior of such insects is not represented by random but rather deterministic walks (as generated by deterministic dynamical systems, e.g., by maps) in a random environment: the animals use their intelligence and experience to guide them. The more knowledge an ant has, the higher its foraging efficiency is. When young insects join the collective to forage with old and middle-aged ants, it benefits the whole colony in the long run. The resulting strategy can even be optimal.”

Lixiang Li, Haipeng Peng, Jürgen Kurths, Yixian Yang, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (2014) Chaos–order transition in foraging behavior of ants PNAS doi:10.1073/pnas.1407083111

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