How Ant Colonies Get Things Done

Posted in Conferences, Companies, Science on December 08, 2008



Ant colonies operate without central control; there is no one in charge and no ant directs the behavior of others. Colonies perform many tasks including foraging, nest construction, and care of the young. Task allocation is the process that adjusts the numbers of workers performing each task, according to the current situation. How do colonies get ants to show up at a picnic, and what determines which ants go? Experiments with harvester ants show that task allocation arises from a dynamical network of brief interactions. Which task an ant performs, and whether it performs it actively at that moment, depends on its recent rate of encounter with other ants. The dynamics of task allocation changes as colonies grow older and larger: larger colonies are more stable than younger, smaller ones, although since ant turnover is high, older colonies do not contain older ants. Ant colony organization provides an interesting model for investigating network behavior and the function of network size.

Speaker: Dr. Deborah Gordon
Deborah M. Gordon is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. She was a French major at Oberlin College and received her M.Sc. from Stanford and her PhD from Duke. She did postdoctoral work at Harvard and Oxford. Her research in animal behavior and ecology is on the behavior and ecology of ants: how colonies are organized, how colonies in a population interact, the evolution of behavior, and the ecology of invasive species such as the ants in your kitchen.

Google Tech Talks
April, 30 2008

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