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Nest choice in arboreal ants is an emergent consequence of network creation under spatial constraints

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Publication details

JournalSwarm Intelligence
DateAccepted/In press - 25 Feb 2021
DateE-pub ahead of print - 24 Apr 2021
DatePublished (current) - Jun 2021
Issue number1-2
Volume15
Pages (from-to)7-30
Early online date24/04/21
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Biological transportation networks must balance competing functional priorities. The selforganizing mechanisms used to generate such networks have inspired scalable algorithms to construct and maintain low-cost and efficient human-designed transport networks. The pheromone-based trail networks of ants have been especially valuable in this regard. Here, we use turtle ants as our focal system: In contrast to the ant species usually used as models for self-organized networks, these ants live in a spatially constrained arboreal environment where both nesting options and connecting pathways are limited. Thus, they must solve a distinct set of challenges which resemble those faced by human transport engineers constrained by existing infrastructure. Here, we ask how a turtle ant colony’s choice of which nests to include in a network may be influenced by their potential to create connections to other nests. In laboratory experiments with Cephalotes varians and Cephalotes texanus, we show that nest choice is influenced by spatial constraints, but in unexpected ways. Under one spatial configuration, colonies preferentially occupied more connected nest sites; however, under another spatial configuration, this preference disappeared. Comparing the results of these experiments to an agent-based model, we demonstrate that this apparently idiosyncratic relationship between nest connectivity and nest choice can emerge without nest preferences via a combination of self-reinforcing random movement along constrained pathways and density-dependent aggregation at nests. While this mechanism does not consistently lead to the de-novo construction of low-cost, efficient transport networks, it may be an effective way to expand a network, when coupled with processes of pruning and restructuring.

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2021

    Research areas

  • foraging, network structures, social networks, network efficiency, network robustness, self-organisation, pheromones, agent-based model, ants, social insects

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