Chapter

Information Processing in Social Insects

pp 331-354

Decision-making in foraging by social insects

  • Claire Detrain
  • , Jean-Louis Deneubourg
  • , Jacques M. Pasteels

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Summary

How are foraging decisions determined in social insects? Investigations implemented within the framework of the optimal foraging theory bring evolutionary and functional answers. In this respect, decisions of solitary foragers like bumblebees seem to be ruled by an optimization of the energy (and time) invested among different feeding sites. Similarly, in insects which can forage collectively, like ants or honeybees, decisions have been interpreted in terms of energetic reward assigned to single workers without any reference to recruitment. Evidence, however, supports the idea that (time and energy) investments in recruitment of nestmates can also alter foraging decisions of the individual. Additional questions arise as to how an insect processes information about food resources and environmental constraints and decides whether or not to recruit nestmates. In ants, adaptive collective decisions emerge from numerous interactions among individuals which use local information and follow simple decisional algorithms to modulate their recruiting behavior. The environment itself contributes to the emergence of foraging decisions by altering the dynamics of recruitment and trail reinforcement. Several experimental and theoretical findings will lead us to re-consider the level of complexity of information processing and coding needed for the emergence of adaptive foraging patterns.