Monday, 9 October 2017

An algorithm that explains how ants create and repair trail networks


Date: October 3, 2017
Source: Stanford University

Imagine you're a member of the Cephalotes goniodontus species, an arboreal ant with a Darth Vader-like head that has inspired humans to call you "turtle ants." You're moving along a branch of the tangled tree canopy in Jalisco, Mexico, following a scent trail left by other ants from your colony, but you hit an abrupt end where the branch is broken. How do you know where to go?

Deborah Gordon, professor of biology at Stanford University, set out to answer this and many other questions when she began studying these ants in 2011. Peering into the trees -- sometimes from atop a ladder -- Gordon spent hours recording which junctions the ants choose.

Gordon's work, published online Sept. 29 by American Naturalist, has led to the development of a simple algorithm that explains how ants create, repair and prune a network within a complex maze of vegetation. This algorithm could explain other biological processes or provide engineering solutions.

An ant algorithm
The ants Gordon studied never leave their forest canopy, moving instead through a tangle of vines, bushes and trees along a circuit of trails that link many nests and food sources. Because these food sources come and go, nests disappear and branches break, the circuit changes slightly from day to day.

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