Social insect colonies adeptly make consensus decisions that emerge from distributed interactions among colony members. How consensus is accomplished when a split decision requires resolution is poorly understood. We studied colony reunification during emigrations of the crevice-dwelling ant Temnothorax rugatulus. Colonies can choose the most preferred of several alternative nest cavities, but the colony sometimes initially splits between sites and achieves consensus later via secondary emigrations. We explored the decision rules that govern reunification using artificially split colonies. When monogynous colonies were evenly divided between identical sites, the location of the queen played a decisive role, with 14 of the 16 colonies reuniting at the site that held the queen. This suggests a group-level strategy for minimizing risk to the queen by avoiding unnecessary moves. When the queen was placed in the less preferred of two sites, all 14 colonies that reunited did so at the preferred nest, despite having to move the queen. These results show that colonies balance multiple factors when reaching consensus, and that preferences for physical features of the environment can outweigh the queen’s influence.
- Consensus decision making
- Nest site selection
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Insect Science