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Ants determine their next move at rest: motor planning and causality in complex systems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number150534
Number of pages19
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
DateAccepted/In press - 26 Nov 2015
DatePublished (current) - 13 Jan 2016


To find useful work to do for their colony, individual eusocial animals have to move, somehow staying attentive to relevant social information. Recent research on individual Temnothorax albipennis ants moving inside their colony’s nest found a power-law relationship between a movement’s duration and its average speed; and a universal speed profile for movements showing that they mostly fluctuate around a constant average speed. From this predictability it was inferred that movement durations are somehow determined before the movement itself. Here, we find similar results in lone T. albipennis ants exploring a large arena outside the nest, both when the arena is clean and when it contains chemical information left by previous nest-mates. This implies that these movement characteristics originate from the same individual neural and/or physiological mechanism(s), operating without immediate regard to social influences. However, the presence of pheromones and/or other cues was found to affect the inter-event speed correlations. Hence we suggest that ants’ motor planning results in intermittent response to the social environment: movement duration is adjusted in response to social information only between movements, not during them. This environmentally flexible, intermittently responsive movement behaviour points towards a spatially allocated division of labour in this species. It also prompts more general questions on collective animal movement and the role of intermittent causation from higher to lower organizational levels in the stability of complex systems.

    Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Visual Perception

    Research areas

  • movement, motor planning, self-similarity, division of labour, intermittent top-down causality, complex social systems

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    Rights statement: This is the final published version of the article (version of record). It first appeared online via The Royal Society at 10.1098/rsos.150534. Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Final published version, 1 MB, PDF document

    Licence: CC BY


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