Royal Society Publishing

Response threshold reinforcements and division of labour in insect societies

G. Theraulaz, E. Bonabeau, J-N. Denuebourg


A model of division of labour in insect societies, based on variable response thresholds is introduced. Response thresholds refer to the likelihood of reacting to task–associated stimuli. Low–threshold individuals perform tasks at a lower level of stimulus than high–threshold individuals. Within individual workers, performing a given task induces a decrease in the corresponding threshold, and not performing the task induces an increase in the threshold. This combined reinforcement process leads to the emergence of specialized workers, i.e. workers that are more responsive to stimuli associated with particular task requirements, from a group of initially identical individuals. Predictions of the dynamics of task specialization resulting from this model are presented. Predictions are also made as to what should be observed when specialists of a given task are removed from the colony and reintroduced after a varying amount of time: the colony does not recover the same state as that prior to the perturbation, and the difference between before and after the perturbation is more strongly marked as the time between separation and reintroduction increases.