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Simulating the evolution of ant behaviour in evaluating nest sites

James A. R. Marshall, Tim Kovacs, Anna R. Dornhaus, Nigel R. Franks, Simulating the evolution of ant behaviour in evaluating nest sites. Advances in Artificial Life - Proceedings of the 7th European Conference on Artificial Life (ECAL), pp. 643–650. August 2003. PDF, 120 Kbytes.


When an ant colony needs to find a new nest, scouts are sent out to evaluate the suitability of potential sites, particularly their size. It has been suggested that ant scouts of Leptothorax albipennis use a simple heuristic known as Buffon's needle to evaluate nest size. They do this in two stages: first laying a pheromone trail in the nest site, then, after returning to the old nest, coming and wandering within the site assessing frequency of intersection with the pheromone trail ("two-pass" strategy). If a colony is forced to relocate from its current nest due to destruction of that nest, the time required to find a suitable new nest may be crucial. This report details preliminary results from a computer simulation model of evaluation of nest size. The model aims to study why a "two-pass" strategy is used by ants when a "one-pass" strategy, in which the ant simultaneously lays pheromone and assesses the frequency at which it encounters its own trail, may be more time efficient. Analysis of the results indicates no clear advantage for the "two-pass" strategy, given the assumptions of the model. Possible implications of this result are discussed.

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