Both a single ant and the colony to which it belongs can make decisions, but the underlying mechanisms may differ. Colonies are known to be less susceptible than lone ants to “choice overload”, whereby decision quality deteriorates with increasing number of options. We probed the basis of this difference, using the model system of nest-site selection by the ant Temnothorax rugatulus. We tested the applicability of two competing models originally developed to explain information-processing mechanisms in vertebrates. The Tug of War model states that concurrent alternatives are directly compared, so that choosing between two alternatives takes longer than accepting a single one. In contrast, the Sequential Choice Model assumes that options are examined in parallel, and action takes place once any option reaches a decision criterion, so that adding more options shortens time to act. We found that single ants matched the Tug of War model while colonies fitted the Sequential Choice model. Our study shows that algorithmic models for decision-making can serve to investigate vastly different domains, from vertebrate individuals to both individuals and colonies of social insects.
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