The hidden cost of information in collective foraging

François Xavier Dechaume-Moncharmont, Anna Dornhaus, Alasdair I. Houston, John M. McNamara, Edmund J. Collins, Nigel R. Franks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

48 Scopus citations

Abstract

Many animals nest or roost colonially. At the start of a potential foraging period, they may set out independently or await information from returning foragers. When should such individuals act independently and when should they wait for information? In a social insect colony, for example, information transfer may greatly increase a recruit's probability of finding food, and it is commonly assumed that this will always increase the colony's net energy gain. We test this assumption with a mathematical model. Energy gain by a colony is a function both of the probability of finding food sources and of the duration of their availability. A key factor is the ratio of pro-active foragers to re-active foragers. When leaving the nest, pro-active foragers search for food independently, whereas re-active foragers rely on information from successful foragers to find food. Under certain conditions, the optimum strategy is totally independent (pro-active) foraging because potentially valuable information that re-active foragers may gain from successful foragers is not worth waiting for. This counter-intuitive outcome is remarkably robust over a wide range of parameters. It occurs because food sources are only available for a limited period. Our study emphasizes the importance of time constraints and the analysis of dynamics, not just steady states, to understand social insect foraging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1689-1695
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume272
Issue number1573
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 22 2005
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Collective foraging
  • Division of labour
  • Information transfer
  • Optimal foraging
  • Recruitment
  • Social insect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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  • Cite this

    Dechaume-Moncharmont, F. X., Dornhaus, A., Houston, A. I., McNamara, J. M., Collins, E. J., & Franks, N. R. (2005). The hidden cost of information in collective foraging. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 272(1573), 1689-1695. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2005.3137