, Volume 61, Issue 3, pp 347-356
Date: 05 Oct 2006

Weighting waiting in collective decision-making

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Animals searching for food, mates, or a home often need to decide when to stop looking and choose the best option found so far. By re-analyzing experimental data from experiments by Mallon et al. (Behav Ecol Sociobiol 50:352–359, 2001), we demonstrate that house-hunting ant colonies are gradually more committed to new nests during the emigration. Early in house-hunting, individual ants were flexibly committed to new nest sites. However, when carrying to a new nest had started, ants hardly ever switched preference. Using a theoretical model based on experimental data, we test at which stage flexible commitment influences speed and accuracy most. We demonstrate that ant colonies have found a good compromise between impatience and procrastination. Early flexibility combined with later rigidity is identically effective as other strategies that include flexible commitment, but it is particularly good when emigration conditions are harsh.