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Study of ants shows some much better informed than others, questions self-organization

File:Temnothorax albipennis casent0173192 profile 1.jpg

Temnothorax albipennis/AntWeb.org, April Nobile

A fascinating new study of Temnothorax albipennis ants challenges assumptions about the self-organization of a colony, according to a recent article by by Danielle Venton, in Wired (August 26, 2011). From “Pioneering Ants Challenge Self-Organization Assumptions,” we learn:

As with other social insects, it was once thought that workers were essentially equivalent in ant colony hierarchies. But it appears that a few well-informed individuals shape group decisions by leading nestmates to new homes.

Most studies of how ants find new nest sites use colonies unfamiliar with a new territory, and assume that all workers follow the same rules. But that’s not realistic, and as a model for self-organization and distributed decision-making — ants have inspired various forms of traffic coordination, from cars to data — it might not be optimally efficient.

“This begins to change how we think about self-organization,” said Nicola Plowes, a behavioral ecologist and ant specialist at Arizona State University, who was not involved in the research. “Informed individuals making those decisions actually result in a process that is more efficient than a simple homogeneous self-organized system.”

It also leads to a promising question: How do some ants get to be more informed than others, and why do the others listen to them?

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One Response to Study of ants shows some much better informed than others, questions self-organization

  1. Lovely post. I am a student studying ecology, things like this really fascinate me!

    If anyone comes across this post, I highly suggest to the reader to check out the myrmecology work of Remy Chauvin. Mr. Chauvin studied ants for over 40 years, this was one of the reasons he came to the conclusion of rejecting Darwinism.

    I think the entomologist Erich Wasmann came very close to working out the riddle of ants, how do some ants get to be more informed than others? and why do the others listen to them? Wasmann attributed this to some kind of psychic capability of ants. Does this seem far out? Well not really considering only a few years later, scientists worked out that ants use “swarm intelligence”. Ants are much more intelligent than human beings are.

    As for natural selection, many entomologoists have rejected natural selection for the ant kingdom? Why? There are many reasons. But let me just list an example of one of the many symbiotic relationships which involve ants. Look at the example between aphids and ants, aphids live on plants they such the sap, and they create honeydew which is a main foodsource for ants. And this is all by chance is it? I don’t think so!

    As Richard Owen the English Biologist said, and many of the early vitalist thinkers, it’s almost like their is a divine mind behind the whole of nature.

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