Modelling foraging behaviour of ant colonies
A major difficulty in understanding how an insect society functions is to be able to deduce collective activity from individual behaviour. Collective behaviour is not just the sum of each individual's behaviour, as patterns can emerge at the level of the society resulting from interactions between individuals or between individuals and the environment. A particular question concerns the organisations of recruitment and foraging in ant societies. When foraging ants discover food sources, ants are recruited to follow a scout trail according to communication with other individuals near the colony. Such communications might simply be of the source last visited, or of the ease of obtaining food, and may elicit either a fixed response or a random one. A program was written to simulate various recruitment strategies for ants operating in simple environments. The results obtained have been related to published experimental evidence, and in the simple case of identical food sources placed equidistant from an ants' nest, a mathematical model is presented to explain the curious behaviour of the ants that arises. Simulations showed that the most efficient strategy of recruitment for ants changes depending on the environment in which the ants operate. The program written to simulate ant recruitment could easily be improved and modified to incorporate more complicated aspects of ant recruitment and foraging.
KeywordsAnts self-organization symmetry-breaking collective behaviour optimal foraging
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