Efficiency and robustness of ant colony transportation networks

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Efficient and robust transportation networks are key to the effectiveness of many natural systems. In polydomous ant colonies, which consist of two or more spatially separated but socially connected nests, resources must be transported between nests. In this study, we analyse the network structure of the inter-nest trails formed by natural polydomous ant colonies. In contrast to previous laboratory studies, the natural colonies in our study do not form minimum spanning tree networks. Instead the networks contain extra connections, suggesting that in natural colonies, robustness may be an important factor in network construction. Spatial analysis shows that nests are randomly distributed within the colony boundary and we find nests are most likely to connect to their nearest neighbours. However, the network structure is not entirely determined by spatial associations. By showing that the networks do not minimise total trail length and are not determined only by spatial associations, the results suggest that the inter-nest networks produced by ant colonies are influenced by previously unconsidered factors. We show that the transportation networks of polydomous ant colonies balance trail costs with the construction of networks that
enable efficient transportation of resources. These networks therefore provide excellent examples of effective biological transport networks which may provide insight into the design and management of transportation systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-517
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
Early online date15 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2014


  • ants
  • minimum spanning tree
  • transportation networks
  • polydomy
  • social insects
  • network analysis

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