Exploration versus exploitation in polydomous ant colonies

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In socially foraging species resource information can be shared between individuals, increasing foraging success. In ant colonies, nestmate recruitment allows high exploitation rates at discovered resources however, to maximize foraging efficiency this must be balanced with searching for new resources. Many ant species form colonies inhabiting two or more spatially separated but socially connected nests: this type of organization is known as polydomy. It has been suggested that the main benefit of polydomy is increased foraging efficiency due to polydomous colonies’ ability to carry out dispersed-central place foraging. Decentralisation of the colony through polydomy may affect recruitment success by limiting interaction between ants based in separate nests. We use an agent-based model which compares foraging success of monodomous and polydomous colonies in different food environments, incorporating recruitment through pheromone trails and group foraging. The results highlight the importance of interactions between recruitment, colony size, and colony organisation. Polydomous colonies discover resources at a higher rate, making them more successful when food is highly dispersed, but their relative success can be lowered by limitations on recruitment success caused by the dispersed population. Monodomous colonies can have higher foraging efficiency than polydomous colonies by exploiting food more rapidly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
Early online date1 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2013


  • exploration
  • foraging
  • polydomy
  • social insects
  • ants
  • pheromone
  • recruitment
  • exploitation
  • agent-based model

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