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Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
From foraging trails to transport networks: how the quality-distance trade-off shapes network structureBiological systems are typically dependent on transportation networks for the efficient distribution of resources and information. Revealing the decentralized mechanisms underlying the generative process of these networks is key in our global understanding of their functions and is of interest to design, manage and improve human transport systems. Ants are a particularly interesting taxon to address these issues because some species build multi-sink multi-source transport networks analogous to human ones. Here, by combining empirical field data and modelling at several scales of description, we show that pre-existing mechanisms of recruitment with positive feedback involved in foraging can account for the structure of complex ant transport networks. Specifically, we find that emergent group-level properties of these empirical networks, such as robustness, efficiency and cost, can arise from models built on simple individual-level behaviour addressing a quality-distance trade-off by the means of pheromone trails. Our work represents a first step in developing a theory for the generation of effective multi-source multi-sink transport networks based on combining exploration and positive reinforcement of best sources.
Nest choice in arboreal ants is an emergent consequence of network creation under spatial constraints
Biological transportation networks must balance competing functional priorities. The self-organizing mechanisms used to generate such networks have inspired scalable algorithms to construct and maintain low-cost and efficient human-designed transport networks. The pheromone-based trail networks of ants have been especially valuable in this regard. Here, we use turtle ants as our focal system: In contrast to the ant species usually used as models for self-organized networks, these ants live in a spatially constrained arboreal environment where both nesting options and connecting pathways are limited. Thus, they must solve a distinct set of challenges which resemble those faced by human transport engineers constrained by existing infrastructure. Here, we ask how a turtle ant colony’s choice of which nests to include in a network may be influenced by their potential to create connections to other nests. In laboratory experiments with
Cephalotes variansand Cephalotes texanus, we show that nest choice is influenced by spatial constraints, but in unexpected ways. Under one spatial configuration, colonies preferentially occupied more connected nest sites; however, under another spatial configuration, this preference disappeared. Comparing the results of these experiments to an agent-based model, we demonstrate that this apparently idiosyncratic relationship between nest connectivity and nest choice can emerge without nestmore »