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Ant Encounters

Ant Encounters: Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior

Deborah M. Gordon
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Ant Encounters
    Book Description:

    How do ant colonies get anything done, when no one is in charge? An ant colony operates without a central control or hierarchy, and no ant directs another. Instead, ants decide what to do based on the rate, rhythm, and pattern of individual encounters and interactions--resulting in a dynamic network that coordinates the functions of the colony.Ant Encountersprovides a revealing and accessible look into ant behavior from this complex systems perspective.

    Focusing on the moment-to-moment behavior of ant colonies, Deborah Gordon investigates the role of interaction networks in regulating colony behavior and relations among ant colonies. She shows how ant behavior within and between colonies arises from local interactions of individuals, and how interaction networks develop as a colony grows older and larger. The more rapidly ants react to their encounters, the more sensitively the entire colony responds to changing conditions. Gordon explores whether such reactive networks help a colony to survive and reproduce, how natural selection shapes colony networks, and how these structures compare to other analogous complex systems.

    Ant Encounterssheds light on the organizational behavior, ecology, and evolution of these diverse and ubiquitous social insects.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3544-7
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-13)

    Ants are more than a hundred million years older than humans, and they cover the land surface of the planet. Probably people have always watched ants, and probably they have always asked the same question: How can ants get anything done when no one is in charge? Whoever wrote Proverbs 6:6 put it this way: “Look to the ant, thou sluggard—consider her ways and be wise.Without chief, overseer or ruler, she gathers the harvest in the summer to eat in the winter.” The history of our understanding of ant behavior is the history of our changing views of...

    (pp. 14-44)

    We don’t know much about ant behavior for three reasons: there are so many different kinds of ants, it’s hard to figure out what an ant is doing, and not many people have looked. Ants are an enormously diverse group. About 11,000 species of ants have been identified. Some people estimate that there are another 10,000 species, mostly in the tropics, that have not yet been found. Everyone knows that there are red ants and black ants; there are also yellow, green, and even blue ants, as well as orange, gray, and brown ones. They range in size from the...

    (pp. 45-74)

    The rest of this book explores the idea that an ant responds to its pattern of interactions, and so the behavior of ant colonies is the result of networks of interactions. Because of the many applications of distributed processes in engineering, and the pervasive role of the Internet in our lives, everyone now knows what a network is. But in 1989, when I first began to suspect that an ant’s behavior depends on its experience of interactions with others in a network, it was difficult to find familiar terms to describe such patterns. I started out using both ‘network’ and...

    (pp. 75-95)

    The behavior of a network depends on its size. The size of an ant colony determines how often ants meet and how many different individuals each ant encounters. Ant species differ greatly in the size at which the colony is mature and ready to reproduce. In all species, a colony starts out small and then grows, beginning with the queen that produces the first workers, and then adding workers until the colony reaches a mature size. How does the size of a colony determine its behavior?

    Like any organism, an ant colony has a life cycle (figure 4.1). The most...

    (pp. 96-120)

    Scaling up, we can consider the relations among colonies as a network of interactions. Colonies interact directly when ants of each colony meet, and they interact indirectly when one colony uses a resource that the other also might use. The outcome of interactions between colonies depends on the same parameters as for ants within colonies: how often the colonies meet, what happens when they interact, and how long the effect of the interaction lasts.

    To consider relations between colonies, we have to add a level to those of ants and colonies: populations of colonies. ‘Population’ is a technical term in...

    (pp. 121-140)

    The evolution of the ants is the story of how colony social organization has developed, expanded, and diversified in response to plants. The earliest ant fossils, from more than 130 million years ago,¹ resemble their wasp ancestors in many ways. About 90 million years ago, the ants began to diversify. It is clear that colony behavior in ants is intimately related to the evolution of diversity in plants.

    Many early ant fossils belong to the Ponerine subfamily.² Existing ponerine species have small colonies that grow slowly, and many are predators that forage in the leaf litter; perhaps the ancestral ponerines...

    (pp. 141-146)

    Suppose that we want to build a general model of ant behavior as a way of summarizing what we know about how ant colonies are organized. Of course, there is no such thing as generic ant behavior. Different species of ants do the same things. They all make and repair a place where the colony lives. They all take in resources from the outside, pass them around a colony, and make more ants. But different species do these things in different ways.

    The daily round of an ant colony is made up of large numbers of brief, simple interactions. The...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 147-164)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 165-167)
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