Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 65, Issue 5, pp 795-808

Optimality of collective choices: A stochastic approach

  • S. C. NicolisAffiliated withCentre for Nonlinear Phenomena and Complex Systems, Université Libre de Bruxelles Email author 
  • , C. DetrainAffiliated withBiologie animale et cellulaire, Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • , D. DemolinAffiliated withLaboratoire de Phonologie, Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • , J. L. DeneubourgAffiliated withCentre for Nonlinear Phenomena and Complex Systems, Université Libre de Bruxelles

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Amplifying communication is a characteristic of group-living animals. This study is concerned with food recruitment by chemical means, known to be associated with foraging in most ant colonies but also with defence or nest moving. A stochastic approach of collective choices made by ants faced with different sources is developed to account for the fluctuations inherent to the recruitment process. It has been established that ants are able to optimize their foraging by selecting the most rewarding source. Our results not only confirm that selection is the result of a trail modulation according to food quality but also show the existence of an optimal quantity of laid pheromone for which the selection of a source is at the maximum, whatever the difference between the two sources might be. In terms of colony size, large colonies more easily focus their activity on one source. Moreover, the selection of the rich source is more efficient if many individuals lay small quantities of pheromone, instead of a small group of individuals laying a higher trail amount. These properties due to the stochasticity of the recruitment process can be extended to other social phenomena in which competition between different sources of information occurs.