How do ant colonies get anything done, when no one is in charge? An ant colony operates without a central control or hierarchy, and no ant directs another. Instead, ants decide what to do based on the rate, rhythm, and pattern of individual encounters and interactions--resulting in a dynamic network that coordinates the functions of the colony. Ant Encounters provides a revealing and accessible look into ant behavior from this complex systems perspective.
Focusing on the moment-to-moment behavior of ant colonies, Deborah Gordon investigates the role of interaction networks in regulating colony behavior and relations among ant colonies. She shows how ant behavior within and between colonies arises from local interactions of individuals, and how interaction networks develop as a colony grows older and larger. The more rapidly ants react to their encounters, the more sensitively the entire colony responds to changing conditions. Gordon explores whether such reactive networks help a colony to survive and reproduce, how natural selection shapes colony networks, and how these structures compare to other analogous complex systems.
Ant Encounters sheds light on the organizational behavior, ecology, and evolution of these diverse and ubiquitous social insects.
About the Author
Deborah M. Gordon is professor of biology at Stanford University. She is the author of Ants at Work (Norton).
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
1 The Ant Colony as a Complex System 1
2 Colony Organization 14
The Diversity of Ant Behavior 14
From Individual to Collective Behavior 19
Division of Labor 25
Ants Switch Tasks 30
Age Polyethism 33
What Ants Respond To 37
Task Allocation 41
3 Interaction Networks 45
What Happens at Network Nodes 47
The Pattern of Interaction Is the Message 49
Rate and Memory 57
Individual Variation 63
Species Differences 67
4 Colony Size 75
Colony Growth 75
Task Allocation and Colony Size 83
Ecology, Behavior, and Mature Colony Size 90
5 Relations with Neighbors 96
Relations with Neighbors of the Same Species 97
Interactions between Species 107
Invasive Species 112
From Ecology to Behavior 117
6 Ant Evolution 121
Coevolution of Ants and Plants 121
Evolution of Colony Organization 125
Natural Selection in Action 131
7 Modeling Ant Behavior 141
What People are Saying About This
Gordon convincingly argues that the behavior of ants within and outside a colony depends largely upon the simple metric of interactions with others. Provocative and stimulating, this book challenges prevailing paradigms and dogmas about social insect behavior. It will engage biologists interested in social insects and nonbiologists interested in complex systems.
Mark Elgar, University of Melbourne
Deborah Gordon has produced a delightful and scholarly introduction to ant colony organization that teaches as it entertains. Building on decades of observation, experimentation, and simulation, she convincingly demonstrates that ants form self-organized communities, in which individual tasks change dynamically as conditions and interaction networks shift. Placing her work in a historical framework that reaches from Darwin to political theory, Gordon conclusively makes the case that ant societies are model systems for the study of collective behavior.
Simon A. Levin, Princeton University
Ant societies are likeand not likehuman societies. Deborah Gordon's new book takes on these fascinating contradictions and achieves the rare balance of serving as an introduction for those wishing to learn about the wonders of the ant society, as well as a guide to the latest developments in group functioning and development.
Peter Nonacs, University of California, Los Angeles
Deborah Gordon's amazingly detailed book on the complex web of interactions in ant colonies makes fascinating reading for anyone who is curious about the world around us. Andeven more interestingly from my point of viewthis book provides rich fodder for understanding other kinds of collective intelligence, from neurons in the brain to human societies linked by the Internet.
Thomas W. Malone, Massachusetts Institute of Technology