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Ants have different ‘standards’ when it comes to choosing a home

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Press release issued: 12 June 2015

Ants use collective decision-making to select the best option when choosing a new home. Until now, the exact way in which they do this has puzzled researchers. A new study, led by the University of Bristol and published in Royal Society Open Science, found that while some are happy to slum it out in anything with a roof, others are so choosy that even the equivalent of a mansion will not satisfy them.

Scientists know that ants use a ‘quorum’; a certain number of ants must ‘vote’ for any one option before the colony as a whole makes a choice, but how do the opinions of individual ants affect this? Using mathematical modelling, researchers from Bristol’s Schools of Engineering Mathematics and Biological Sciences have demonstrated that the answer may lie in the varying ‘pickiness’ of ants in a colony.

The modelling found this distribution of individual ‘standards’ across the colony makes for a robust, but effective, method of nest choice. When the team simulated this, their results were strikingly similar to the behaviour of real ants, suggesting that, in insects often known for their uniformity, in this case at least, individuality may hold the key to their success.


Computational model of collective nest selection by ants with heterogeneous acceptance thresholds by Naoki Masuda, Thomas A. O'shea-Wheller, Carolina Doran, Nigel R. Franks in Royal Society Open Science.


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