Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

From Chaos to Order: How Ants optimize Food Search

27.05.2014

Ants are capable of complex problem-solving strategies that could be widely applied as optimization techniques.

An individual ant searching for food walks in random ways, biologists found. Yet the collective foraging behaviour of ants goes well beyond that, as a mathematical study to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals: The animal movements at a certain point change from chaos to order. This happens in a surprisingly efficient self-organized way. Understanding the ants could help analyze similar phenomena - for instance how humans roam in the internet.

“Ants have a nest so they need something like a strategy to bring home the food they find,” says lead-author Lixiang Li who is affiliated both to the Information Security Center, State Key Laboratory of Networking and Switching Technology, at the Beijing University of Posts and Communications, and to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “We argue that this is a factor, largely underestimated so far, that actually determines their behavior.”

Leaving a trail of scent

The Chinese-German research team basically put almost everything that is known about the foraging of ants into equations and algorithms and fed this into their computers. They assume that there are three stages of the complex feed-search movements of an ant colony: Initially, scout ants indeed circle around in a seemingly chaotic way. When exhausted, they go back to the nest to eat and rest. However, when one of them finds some food in the vicinity of the colony, it takes a tiny piece of it to the nest, leaving a trail of a scent-emanating substance called pheromones.

Other ants will follow that trail to find the food and bring some of it home. Their orchestration is still weak because there is so little pheromone on the trail. Due to their large number, the ants go lots of different ways to the food source and back to the nest, leaving again trails of scent. This eventually leads to an optimization of the path: Since pheromones are evaporative, the scent is the stronger the shorter the trail is – so more ants follow the shortest trail, again leaving scent marks. This generates a self-reinforcing effect of efficiency – the ants waste a lot less time and energy than they would in continued chaotic foraging.

Importantly, the researchers found that the experience of individual ants contributes to their foraging success – something also neglected in previous research. Older ants have a better knowledge of the nests surroundings. The foraging of younger ants is a learning process rather than an effective contribution to scout food, according to the study.

 “A highly efficient complex network”

“While the single ant is certainly not smart, the collective acts in a way that I’m tempted to call intelligent,” says co-author Jürgen Kurths who leads PIK’s research domain Transdisciplinary Concepts and Methods. “The principle of self-organisation is known from for instance fish swarms, but it is the homing which makes the ants so interesting.” While the study of foraging behavior of ants is certainly of practical ecological importance, the study’s authors are mainly interested in understanding the fundamental patterns of nonlinear phenomena. “The ants collectively form a highly efficient complex network,” Kurths explains. “And this is something we find in many natural and social systems.”

So the mathematical model developed in studying the ants is applicable not only to very different kinds of animals which share just the feature that they have a home to return to, such as Albatrosses. It also provides a new perspective on behavioral patterns of humans in areas as diverse as the evolution of web services and smart transportation systems.

Article: Li, L., Peng, H., Kurths, J., Yang, Y., Schellnhuber, H.J. (2014): Chaos-order transition in foraging behavior of ants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Early Edition [DOI:10.1073/pnas.1407083111]

Weblink to PNAS where the article will publish any day in the week after 26 May: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1407083111

For further information please contact:
PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
E-Mail: press@pik-potsdam.de
Twitter: @PIK_Climate

Jonas Viering | PIK Potsdam
Further information:
http://www.pik-potsdam.de

Further reports about: Academy Food Search ants behavior chaotic colony found individual mathematical movements phenomena pheromones

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht At last, butterflies get a bigger, better evolutionary tree
16.02.2018 | Florida Museum of Natural History

nachricht New treatment strategies for chronic kidney disease from the animal kingdom
16.02.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

Im Focus: Autonomous 3D scanner supports individual manufacturing processes

Let’s say the armrest is broken in your vintage car. As things stand, you would need a lot of luck and persistence to find the right spare part. But in the world of Industrie 4.0 and production with batch sizes of one, you can simply scan the armrest and print it out. This is made possible by the first ever 3D scanner capable of working autonomously and in real time. The autonomous scanning system will be on display at the Hannover Messe Preview on February 6 and at the Hannover Messe proper from April 23 to 27, 2018 (Hall 6, Booth A30).

Part of the charm of vintage cars is that they stopped making them long ago, so it is special when you do see one out on the roads. If something breaks or...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Fingerprints of quantum entanglement

16.02.2018 | Information Technology

'Living bandages': NUST MISIS scientists develop biocompatible anti-burn nanofibers

16.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Hubble sees Neptune's mysterious shrinking storm

16.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>