Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 451–460 | Cite as

Shape and efficiency of wood ant foraging networks

  • Jerome Buhl
  • Kerri Hicks
  • Esther R. Miller
  • Sophie Persey
  • Ola Alinvi
  • David J. T. Sumpter
Original Paper


We measured the shape of the foraging trail networks of 11 colonies of the wood ant Formica aquilonia (Formica rufa group). We characterized these networks in terms of their degree of branching and the angles between branches, as well as in terms of their efficiency. The measured networks were compared with idealized model networks built to optimize one of two components of efficiency, total length (i.e., total amount of trail) and route factor (i.e., average distance between nest and foraging site). The analysis shows that the networks built by the ants obtain a compromise between the two modes of efficiency. These results are largely independent of the size of the network or colony size. The ants’ efficiency is comparable to that of networks built by humans but achieved without the benefit of centralized control.


Networks Trunk trails Ants Formica 



This research was supported by the Royal Society, the Human Frontiers Science Program (grant RGP51/2007), and the Australian Research Council. We also thank three anonymous referees for their help and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jerome Buhl
    • 1
  • Kerri Hicks
    • 2
  • Esther R. Miller
    • 2
  • Sophie Persey
    • 2
  • Ola Alinvi
    • 3
  • David J. T. Sumpter
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Biological Sciences and Center for Mathematical BiologyThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyOxford UniversityOxfordUK
  3. 3.UmeåSweden
  4. 4.Mathematics DepartmentUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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