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Have scientists discovered universal pattern in ant behavior?

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Posted November 25, 2014

Are there any universal laws governing our societies? Interestingly, study of ant behavior provides some new insights to this old and very intriguing question. Physicist Kim Christensen and his colleagues working at the Imperial College London discovered that the average speed of ant depends on the duration of an event. “Our results are based on the activity of ants but we are convinced that our main conclusion that the duration of an activity event is determined before it commences is likely to be applicable as a general principle of animal behavior across taxa, including humans,” the researchers think.

Picture: Ant. Image credit: Q Family via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Picture: Ant. Image credit: Q Family via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

“Universality in relationships at the social level, such as between the size of cities and measures of income, innovation and even the pace of life are stimulating the development of a unified theory of urban living. It is not clear, however, whether universal relationships exist within societies because behaviour varies both among and within individuals and involves scale invariant spontaneous activity,” the authors of the study published on The Royal Society Open Science say.

However, not only humans are ultra social. So called eusocial insects form large and complex collectivities as well. In fact, success of ants is often attributed to their ability to form sizeable communities. In fact, it is often assumed that anthill can be seen as a model of human society and exploration of ant behavior can provide information on processes governing our cities.

“Our results demonstrate that the average event speed profile within a society could be recovered for any event duration and corresponding environmental conditions, using a single scaling function and the value of the exponent characterizing the environmental size,” the scientists write. Moreover, they managed to establish direction of the causal relationship as well. Study showed that event duration determines speed of the event.

Somewhat unexpectedly, speed upturns with the duration of the event. Christensen and his team also found out that the average speed of a single ant rises when its colony resides in the bigger nests. It can be explained by the fact that smaller nests increase density and number of interactions between insects. Consequently, average speed is reduced. “Hence our results also reveal that the universal relationship between activity event duration and average speed is flexible to meet the requirements of a growing colony,” the scholars claim.

Article: Christensen, K. et al. 2014, Universality in ant behavior, Royal Society Open Science, source link.

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