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Publication - Dr Edmund Hunt

    Ants determine their next move at rest

    motor planning and causality in complex systems


    Hunt, ER, Baddeley, RJ, Worley, A, Sendova-Franks, AB & Franks, NR, 2016, ‘Ants determine their next move at rest: motor planning and causality in complex systems’. Royal Society Open Science, vol 3.


    To find useful work to do for their colony, individual eusocial
    animals have to move, somehow staying attentive to relevant
    social information. Recent research on individual Temnothorax
    ants moving inside their colony’s nest found a
    power-law relationship between a movement’s duration and
    its average speed; and a universal speed profile for movements
    showing that they mostly fluctuate around a constant average
    speed. From this predictability it was inferred that movement
    durations are somehow determined before the movement itself.
    Here, we find similar results in lone T. albipennis ants exploring
    a large arena outside the nest, both when the arena is clean
    and when it contains chemical information left by previous
    nest-mates. This implies that these movement characteristics
    originate from the same individual neural and/or physiological
    mechanism(s), operating without immediate regard to social
    influences. However, the presence of pheromones and/or other
    cues was found to affect the inter-event speed correlations.
    Hence we suggest that ants’ motor planning results in
    intermittent response to the social environment: movement
    duration is adjusted in response to social information only
    between movements, not during them. This environmentally
    flexible, intermittently responsive movement behaviour points
    towards a spatially allocated division of labour in this species.
    It also prompts more general questions on collective animal
    movement and the role of intermittent causation from higher to
    lower organizational levels in the stability of complex systems.

    Full details in the University publications repository