Selforganization Collective Intelligence And Decision Making

A rapidly developing approach to the study of ants and other social insects is the application of self-organization theories. Here self-organization can be defined as a mechanism for building spatial structures and temporal patterns of activity at a global (collective or colony) level by means of multiple interactions among components at the individual (e.g., worker) level. The components interact through local, often simple, rules that do not directly or explicitly code for the global structures. The importance of studies of such self-organization is that they can show how very sophisticated structures can be produced at the colony level with a fully decentralized system of control in which the workers have no overview of the problems they are working to solve.

A simple and very intuitive example of how ants use self-organization is found in their ability to select short cuts. Certain ants can select the shortest paths to food sources. Indeed, where there is a short and a long path to the same food source, the decision-making mechanism can be surprisingly simple. The ants that happen to take the shorter path get there

Further Reading

Bolton, B. (1994). "Identification Guide to the Ant Genera of the World."

Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. Bourke, A. F. G., and Franks, N. R. (1995). "Social Evolution in Ants." Monographs in Behavioral Ecology. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Camazine, S., Deneubourg, J.-L., Franks, N. R., Sneyd, J., Theraulaz, G., and Bonabeau, E. (2001). "Self-Organization in Biology." Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. Detrain, C., Deneubourg, J.-L., and Pasteels, J. (1999) "Information

Processing in Social Insects." Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, Switzerland. Grimaldi, D., and Agosti, D. (2000). A formicine in New Jersey Cretaceous amber (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and the early evolution of the ants. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 97, 13678-13683. Hölldobler, B., and Wilson, E. O. (1990). "The Ants." Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA.

Keller, L., and Genoud, M. (1997). Extraordinary lifespans in ants: A test of evolutionary theories of ageing. Nature 389, 958-960. Passera, L., Roncin, E., Kauffmann, B., and Keller, L. (1996). Increased soldier production in ant colonies exposed to intraspecific competition. Nature 379, 630-631. Schmidt-Hempel, P., and Crozier, R. H. (1999). Polyandry versus polygyny versus parasites. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. (Lond) (B) 354, 507-515. Sendova-Franks, A. B., and Franks, N. R. (1994). Social resilience in individual worker ants and its role in division of labour. Proc. R. Soc. (Lond) (B) 256, 305-309.


John T. Sorensen

California Department of Food and Agriculture

Aphids are remarkable, evolutionary exquisite creatures, and among the most successful insects. Aphid evolution has been shaped through nutrient-driven selection and by the host plants on which they feed, and aphids have responded by developing intricate life cycles and complex polymorphisms. These sap-feeding hemipterans have coped with a hostile world through developing an exceptionally high reproductive rate and passive wind-borne dispersal, a strategy in which individuals are quite expendable, but survival and prosperity of their genes are guaranteed. Because of their intriguing evolutionary adaptations, aphids were among our most worthy competitors as humans entered the agricultural era.

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