Royal Society Publishing


We demonstrate a speed versus accuracy trade–off in collective decision making. House–hunting ant colonies choose a new nest more quickly in harsh conditions than in benign ones and are less discriminating. The errors that occur in a harsh environment are errors of judgement not errors of omission because the colonies have discovered all of the alternative nests before they initiate an emigration. Leptothorax albipennis ants use quorum sensing in their house hunting. They only accept a nest, and begin rapidly recruiting members of their colony, when they find within it a sufficient number of their nest–mates. Here we show that these ants can lower their quorum thresholds between benign and harsh conditions to adjust their speed–accuracy trade–off. Indeed, in harsh conditions these ants rely much more on individual decision making than collective decision making. Our findings show that these ants actively choose to take their time over judgements and employ collective decision making in benign conditions when accuracy is more important than speed.

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