An agent-based model to investigate the roles of attractive and repellent pheromones in ant decision making during foraging

EJH Robinson, M Holcombe, FLW Ratnieks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Pharaoh's ants organise their foraging system using three types of trail pheromone. All previous foraging models based on specific ant foraging systems have assumed that only a single attractive pheromone is used. Here we present an agent-based model based on trail choice at a trail bifurcation within the foraging trail network of a Pharaoh's ant colony which includes both attractive (positive) and repellent (negative) trail pheromones. Experiments have previously shown that Pharaoh's ants use both types of pheromone. We investigate how the repellent pheromone affects trail choice and foraging success in our simulated foraging system. We find that both the repellent and attractive pheromones have a role in trail choice, and that the repellent pheromone prevents random fluctuations which could otherwise lead to a positive feedback loop causing the colony to concentrate its foraging on the unrewarding trail. An emergent feature of the model is a high level of variability in the level of repellent pheromone on the unrewarding branch. This is caused by the repellent pheromone exerting negative feedback on its own deposition. We also investigate the dynamic situation where the location of the food is changed after foraging trails are established. We find that the repellent pheromone has a key role in enabling the colony to refocus the foraging effort to the new location. Our results show that having a repellent pheromone is adaptive, as it increases the robustness and flexibility of the colony's overall foraging response.
Translated title of the contributionAn agent-based model to investigate the roles of attractive and repellent pheromones in ant decision making during foraging
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250 - 258
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Volume255
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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