Self-organized systems of collective behaviour have been demonstrated in a number of group-living organisms. There is, however, less research relating to how variation in individual assessments may facilitate group decision-making. Here, we investigate this using the decentralized system of collective nest choice behaviour employed by the ant Temnothorax albipennis, combining experimental results with computational modelling. In experiments, isolated workers of this species were allowed to investigate new nest sites of differing quality, and it was found that for any given nest quality, there was wide variation among individuals in the durations that they spent within each nest site. Additionally, individual workers were consistent in spending more time in nest sites of higher quality, and less time in those of lower quality. Hence, the time spent in a new nest site must have included an assessment of nest quality. As nest site visit durations (henceforth termed assessment durations) are linked to recruitment, it is possible that the variability we observed may influence the collective decision-making process of colonies. Thus, we explored this further using a computational model of nest site selection, and found that heterogeneous nest assessments conferred a number of potential benefits. Furthermore, our experiments showed that nest quality assessments were flexible, being influenced by experience of prior options. Our findings help to elucidate the potential mechanisms underlying group behaviour, and highlight the importance of heterogeneity among individuals, rather than precise calibration, in shaping collective decision-making.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3666520.
- Received October 13, 2016.
- Accepted January 3, 2017.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.