The hidden cost of information in collective foraging

F-X Dechaume-Moncharmont, A Dornhaus, AI Houston, JM McNamara, EJ Collins, NR Franks

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

70 Citations (Scopus)


Many animals nest or roost colonially. At the start of a potential foraging period, they may set out independently or await information from returning foragers. When should such individuals act independently and when should they wait for information? In a social insect colony, for example, information transfer may greatly increase a recruit's probability of finding food, and it is commonly assumed that this will always increase the colony's net energy gain. We test this assumption with a mathematical model. Energy gain by a colony is a function both of the probability of finding food sources and of the duration of their availability. A key factor is the ratio of pro-active foragers to re-active foragers. When leaving the nest, pro-active foragers search for food independently, whereas re-active foragers rely on information from successful foragers to find food. Under certain conditions, the optimum strategy is totally independent (pro-active) foraging because potentially valuable information that re-active foragers may gain from successful foragers is not worth waiting for. This counter-intuitive outcome is remarkably robust over a wide range of parameters. It occurs because food sources are only available for a limited period. Our study emphasizes the importance of time constraints and the analysis of dynamics, not just steady states, to understand social insect foraging.
Translated title of the contributionThe hidden cost of information in collective foraging
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1689 - 1695
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume272 (1573)
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2005

Bibliographical note

Publisher: Royal Society
Other identifier: IDS number 962AM


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