Social context and information processing in collective decision-making systems: chain formation dynamics in the ant Oecophylla smaragdina (#108)
The weaver ant Oecophlla smaragdina is considered to have one of the most sophisticated communication systems in social insects (with at least five different chemical and tactile recruitment systems used to modulate foraging, territorial defense and territory exploration) in parallel with one of the most complex behavioral repertoires (the use of worker chains and larval silk to construct arboreal nests). Yet surprisingly, this collective behavioral complexity appears to be based on the ultimate individual communication simplicity. Groups of individuals can select and build chains to bridge the gap to particular targets, but appear to do so in the complete absence of any recruitment communication. The dynamics of the system can be successfully modeled without reference to individual communication, which appears to have been abandoned. The success of complex systems is thought to lie in part in the simplicity of their individual components. These results however suggest that context-specific values for sophisticated communication systems might exist. The success and capabilities of collective chain formation in Oecophylla may lie in temporarily abandoning the very features for which they are known: a complex individual-level communication system.