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Field study shows group decision making not always the best

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Posted August 1, 2013
Proportion of simulated individuals and colonies (population 100) selecting the better of two nests. Colonies perform better when the quality difference between the nests is small, but individuals choose more accurately when the difference is greater. Credit: PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1304917110

Proportion of simulated individuals and colonies (population 100) selecting the better of two nests. Colonies perform better when the quality difference between the nests is small, but individuals choose more accurately when the difference is greater. Credit: PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1304917110

A combined team of researchers from Arizona State University and Uppsala University in Sweden has found that collective decision making by ants doesn’t always result in selecting the best option for adopting a new nest. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes experiments they conducted with ants and artificially lit nests to determine how the ants chose the best option.

Temnothorax rugatulus, a type of ant that lives in Arizona, builds its nest in the ground—it has to pick a spot first however, and they way an ant colony does so was the focus of this new effort. The team wanted to know if collective decision making was always superior to that of individual ants.

To find out, the researchers set up an environment where a colony of ants found itself in need of a new nest. Each test run involved a colony that had to choose between a control nest and one that varied in quality. Quality was based on how much light could enter the nest from holes that led to the surface. The more light, the lower the quality—ants like it dark and fewer holes mean less heat loss.

The team noted that when one of the nests was obviously far superior to the other, both the colony as a whole, and individual ants more often chose the better option. What was surprising, however, was that individuals had a slightly better hit rate then the colony as a whole.

Read more at: Phys.org

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