Data from: Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) use adaptable transportation networks to track changes in resource quality
Latty, Tanya; Holmes, Michael J.; Makinson, James C.; Beekman, Madeleine (2017), Data from: Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) use adaptable transportation networks to track changes in resource quality, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.t21kq
Transportation networks play a crucial role in human and animal societies. For a transportation network to be efficient, it must have adequate capacity to meet traffic demand. Network design becomes increasingly difficult in situations where traffic demand can change unexpectedly. In humans, network design is often constrained by path dependency because it is difficult to move a road once it is built. A similar issue theoretically faces pheromone-trail-laying social insects; once a trail has been laid, positive feedback makes re-routing difficult because new trails cannot compete with continually reinforced pre-existing trails. In the present study, we examined the response of Argentine ant colonies and their trail networks to variable environments where resources differ in quality and change unexpectedly. We found that Argentine ant colonies effectively tracked changes in food quality such that colonies allocated the highest proportion of foragers to the most rewarding feeder. Ant colonies maximised access to high concentration feeders by building additional trails and routes connecting the nest to the feeder. Trail networks appeared to form via a pruning process in which lower traffic trails were gradually removed from the network. At the same time, we observed several instances where new trails appear to have been built to accommodate a surge in demand. The combination of trail building when traffic demand is high and trail pruning when traffic demand is low results in a demand-driven network formation system that allows ants to monopolise multiple dynamic resources.