Self-organized lane formation and optimized traffic flow in army ants

I. D. Couzin, N. R. Franks

Abstract

We show how the movement rules of individual ants on trails can lead to a collective choice of direction and the formation of distinct traffic lanes that minimize congestion. We develop and evaluate the results of a new model with a quantitative study of the behaviour of the army ant Eciton burchelli. Colonies of this species have up to 200 000 foragers and transport more than 3000 prey items per hour over raiding columns that exceed 100 m. It is an ideal species in which to test the predictions of our model because it forms pheromone trails that are densely populated with very swift ants. The model explores the influences of turning rates and local perception on traffic flow. The behaviour of real army ants is such that they occupy the specific region of parameter space in which lanes form and traffic flow is maximized.