Dynamics of social interactions, in the flow of information and disease spreading in social insects colonies: Effects of environmental events and spatial heterogeneity

Xiaohui Guo, Jun Chen, Asma Azizi, Jennifer Fewell, Yun Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The relationship between division of labor and individuals’ spatial behavior in social insect colonies provides a useful context to study how social interactions influence the spreading of elements (which could be information, virus or food) across distributed agent systems. In social insect colonies, spatial heterogeneity associated with variations of individual task roles, affects social contacts, and thus the way in which agent moves through social contact networks. We used an Agent Based Model (ABM) to mimic three realistic scenarios of elements’ transmission, such as information, food or pathogens, via physical contact in social insect colonies. Our model suggests that individuals within a specific task interact more with consequences that elements could potentially spread rapidly within that group, while elements spread slower between task groups. Our simulations show a strong linear relationship between the degree of spatial heterogeneity and social contact rates, and that the spreading dynamics of elements follow a modified nonlinear logistic growth model with varied transmission rates for different scenarios. Our work provides important insights on the dual-functionality of physical contacts. This dual-functionality is often driven via variations of individual spatial behavior, and can have both inhibiting and facilitating effects on elements’ transmission rates depending on environment. The results from our proposed model not only provide important insights on mechanisms that generate spatial heterogeneity, but also deepen our understanding of how social insect colonies balance the benefit and cost of physical contacts on the elements’ transmission under varied environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110191
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
StatePublished - May 7 2020



  • Agent-based modeling
  • Distributed networks
  • Division of labor
  • Elements transmission
  • Non-random walk
  • Social insect colonies
  • Social interaction
  • Spatial fidelity
  • Spatial heterogeneity
  • Task groups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics

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