Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 17–30 | Cite as

Collective decisions in ants when foraging under crowded conditions

  • Audrey DussutourEmail author
  • Stamatios C. Nicolis
  • Jean-Louis Deneubourg
  • Vincent Fourcassié
Original Article


In this paper we examine the effect of crowding on the selection of a path in the mass-recruiting ant Lasius niger. In our experiment, ants had to go from their nest to a food source by crossing a diamond-shaped bridge, giving the choice between two paths. Two types of bridges were used: the first had two branches of equal length but different width while the second had two branches of different length and width. Experiments at high traffic volume always ended up with the selection of the wider branch, even if it was longer. This result shows that overcrowding on the narrow branch plays an essential role in the mechanism underlying the choice of route in ants. A mathematical model was developed to evaluate the importance of two mechanisms that could account for this result. The first is based on the difference in travel duration between the two paths. The second is based on the repulsive interactions between workers making head-on encounters. The model shows that travel duration per se is not sufficient to explain path choice. Rather, it is the interplay between trail following behaviour and repulsive interactions that allows ants to choose the path that minimizes their travel time. When choosing a path ants thus prefer to trade time against energy. Our results demonstrate that any environmental constraint that alters the dynamics of trail recruitment can lead to the emergence of adaptive foraging decisions without any explicit coding of information by the foragers at the individual level.


Formicidae Ants Lasius niger Recruitment Collective behaviour Foraging 



We thank Nadia Colasurdo for her comments on the manuscript, three anonymous referees, and L. Sundström for helpful remarks to improve the MS. A. D. was supported by a doctoral grant and a mobility fellowship (“bourse de cotutelle Belgique-France”) from the French Ministry of Scientific Research. S. C. N. was supported by a fellowship from the foundation Fyssen. J. L. D. is a research associate from the Belgian National Funds for Scientific Research.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Audrey Dussutour
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Stamatios C. Nicolis
    • 1
  • Jean-Louis Deneubourg
    • 2
  • Vincent Fourcassié
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, CNRS UMR 5169Université Paul SabatierToulouseFrance
  2. 2.Unit of Social EcologyUniversité Libre de Bruxelles, Bld du TriompheBruxellesBelgium

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