A comparative approach to cooperative transport in ants: individual persistence correlates with group coordination

Abstract

When groups of ants work together to carry large objects—called cooperative transport—they must form consensus on a travel direction. In many species, groups are unsuccessful at this decision, and deadlock. In other collective decisions, including nest-site selection in honeybees, individuals’ enthusiasm or recruitment intensity for a given option affects the selection process. A similar mechanism may be important during cooperative transport in ants and may account for coordination differences among species. Results from theoretical models suggest that individuals’ persistence—their reluctance to give up or change their preferred direction—may promote coordination. More persistent individuals formed more successful groups in a theoretical context. As an empirical test of this hypothesis, I examined cooperative transport in four ant species that differ substantially in their group-level coordination, from exceedingly coordinated to rarely successful. I focused on the beginning of transport, evaluating groups’ transitions from uncoordinated to successful. I measured two types of persistence at the individual level—total engagement effort and local engagement time—and I measured group coordination for each species. In one species, I also manipulated persistence by adding a force equivalent to infinitely persistent ants to the existing transport groups. Species with more persistent individuals succeeded more often and formed more coordinated transport groups, with more direct paths. Furthermore, adding two infinitely persistent ants to the existing groups seemed to moderately increase their path directness. These results support the hypothesis that high individual persistence promotes group coordination during cooperative transport, and this study informs the mechanisms of emergent coordination.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Mike Breed for discussing conceptual design and results, and for providing comments on this manuscript. I also thank Andrew Koller for help brainstorming experimental procedures, particularly regarding measuring the force ants pull with. Zach Dix extracted persistence data from videos and assisted with the fieldwork in Arizona, and Jenna Bilek helped with additional data extraction. I thank Tomer Czaczkes and Stephen Pratt for providing valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Dr. Pratt at ASU and John Adams at Biosphere 2 provided assistance and use of their facilities during fieldwork. I thank QDT and the writing coop for providing suggestions on the analyses and/or writing. This work was funded in part by the University of Colorado Graduate School, and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

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Correspondence to H. F. McCreery.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Online Resource 1 Movie showing examples of cooperative transport attempts for each species (MP4 175,735 kb)

Online Resource 2 Movie showing example of trial to measure persistence (MP4 48,078 kb)

Online Resource 3 Movie showing example of trial to measure the force that F. podzolica workers typically pull with (MP4 43,697 kb)

Online Resource 4 Movie showing example of a persistence manipulation trial in F. podzolica (MP4 52,149 kb)

Online Resource 5 Table showing P values for post hoc comparisons among species (PDF 55 kb)

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McCreery, H.F. A comparative approach to cooperative transport in ants: individual persistence correlates with group coordination. Insect. Soc. 64, 535–547 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-017-0575-6

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Keywords

  • Cooperative transport
  • Persistence
  • Collective decision
  • Formicidae
  • Emergent behavior
  • Collective behavior