The Trail Less Traveled: Individual Decision-Making and Its Effect on Group Behavior

Michele C. Lanan, Anna Dornhaus, Emily I. Jones, Andrew Waser, Judith L. Bronstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Scopus citations

Abstract

Social insect colonies are complex systems in which the interactions of many individuals lead to colony-level collective behaviors such as foraging. However, the emergent properties of collective behaviors may not necessarily be adaptive. Here, we examine symmetry breaking, an emergent pattern exhibited by some social insects that can lead colonies to focus their foraging effort on only one of several available food patches. Symmetry breaking has been reported to occur in several ant species. However, it is not clear whether it arises as an unavoidable epiphenomenon of pheromone recruitment, or whether it is an adaptive behavior that can be controlled through modification of the individual behavior of workers. In this paper, we used a simulation model to test how symmetry breaking is affected by the degree of non-linearity of recruitment, the specific mechanism used by individuals to choose between patches, patch size, and forager number. The model shows that foraging intensity on different trails becomes increasingly asymmetric as the recruitment response of individuals varies from linear to highly non-linear, supporting the predictions of previous work. Surprisingly, we also found that the direction of the relationship between forager number (i.e., colony size) and asymmetry varied depending on the specific details of the decision rule used by individuals. Limiting the size of the resource produced a damping effect on asymmetry, but only at high forager numbers. Variation in the rule used by individual ants to choose trails is a likely mechanism that could cause variation among the foraging behaviors of species, and is a behavior upon which selection could act.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere47976
JournalPloS one
Volume7
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 24 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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