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Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

ISSN: 0340-5443 (printed version)
ISSN: 1432-0762 (electronic version)

Table of Contents

Abstract Volume 36 Issue 2 (1995) pp 119-133

Trail following in ants: individual properties determine population behaviour

L. Edelstein-Keshet (1), James Watmough (1), G. Bard Ermentrout (2)

(1) Mathematics Department, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z2, Canada
(2) Department of Mathematics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA

Received: 25 September 1993 / Accepted after revision: 3 October 1994

Abstract This paper deals with the purposeful marking of trails as a mechanism for coordinating movement. Patterns of motion are adapted to the environmental conditions, the functions to be carried out, and the condition of the organism; therefore, the networks of trails must change both quantitatively and qualitatively over time. The nature of such changes, and how they are controlled at the individual level are discussed. In particular, we show that slight modulations in individual traits, in the trail marker, or in the size of the group can account for major changes in movement patterns at the population level such as abrupt transitions from diffuse area-covering networks to focused trunk trails. Using a mathematical model and computer (cellular automata) simulation we show that trunk trails carrying a high density of traffic can form spontaneously under suitable conditions from an initially randomly distributed group. The key to this self-organizing property stems from interactions between individuals that lead to a "collective effect" in recruitment to trails: the influence of small groups of individuals increases rapidly with group size. The dichotomy between high traffic (strong) trunk trails versus diffuse (weak) networks is discussed.

Key words Ants Model Simulation Trail patterns

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Last change: November 9, 1997
Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1995