Many social animals cooperatively process information during decision making, allowing them to concentrate on the best of several options. However, positive feedback created by information sharing can also lock the group into a suboptimal outcome if option quality changes over time. This creates a trade-off between consensus and flexibility, whose resolution depends on the information-sharing mechanisms groups employ. We investigated the influence of communication behavior on decision flexibility in nest site choice by colonies of the ant Temnothorax rugatulus. These ants divide their emigration into two distinct phases separated by a quorum rule. In the first phase, scouts recruit nestmates to promising sites using the slow method of tandem running. Once a site's population surpasses a quorum, they switch to the faster method of social transport. We gave colonies a choice between two sites of different quality, and then switched site quality at different points during the emigration. Before the quorum was met, colonies were able to switch their choice to the newly superior site, but once they began to transport, their flexibility dropped significantly. Close observation of single ants revealed that transporters were more likely than tandem leaders to continue recruiting to a site even after its quality was diminished. That is, tandem leaders continued to monitor the quality of the site, while transporters instead fully committed to the site without further assessment. We discuss how this change in commitment with quorum attainment may enhance the rapid achievement of consensus needed for nest site selection, but at a cost in flexibility once the quorum is met.
- Collective decision making
- Quorum sensing
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology