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Behavioural variation among workers promotes feed-forward loops in a simulated insect colony


Easter, Carrie; Leadbeater, Ellouise; Hasenjager, Matthew (2022), Behavioural variation among workers promotes feed-forward loops in a simulated insect colony, Dryad, Dataset,


Coordinated responses in eusocial insect colonies arise from worker interaction networks that enable collective processing of ecologically relevant information. Previous studies have detected a structural motif in these networks known as the feed-forward loop, which functions to process information in other biological regulatory networks (e.g., transcriptional networks). However, the processes that generate feed-forward loops among workers and the consequences for information flow within the colony remain largely unexplored. We constructed an agent-based model to investigate how individual variation in activity and movement shaped production of feed-forward loops in a simulated insect colony. We hypothesised that individual variation along these axes would generate feed-forward loops by driving variation in interaction frequency among workers. We found that among-individual variation in activity drove overrepresentation of feed-forward loops in the interaction networks by determining the directionality of interactions. However, despite previous work linking feed-forward loops with efficient information transfer, activity variation did not promote faster or more efficient information flow, thus providing no support for the hypothesis that feed-forward loops reflect selection for enhanced collective functioning. Conversely, individual variation in movement trajectory, despite playing no role in generating feed-forward loops, promoted fast and efficient information flow by linking together unconnected regions of the nest.


Data was collected using the Netlogo agent-based simulation available from the Zenodo software repository:

Using this model, we examined how among-individual variations in activity and turning indices influenced the production of feed-forward loops within the population social network. This dataset includes all the data and R code required to reproduce our analysis and figures. Full details on the analysis can be found in the manuscript. 

Usage Notes

The agent-based model can be downloaded from the Zenodo software repository:

Please refer to README file for usage information and additional details.


European Research Council, Award: 638873

Leeds Doctoral Scholarship