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Spring 2011 GRASP Seminar – Deborah Gordon, Stanford University, “The Regulation of Foraging Activity in Harvester Ant Colonies”

March 25, 2011 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Abstract: Ant colonies operate without central control
and resemble large distributed systems. An ant’s behavior depends on its recent
experience of brief interactions with other ants. In the course of a brief
antennal contact, one ant can assess the task of the other using odor cues. A
long-term study of the behavior and ecology of harvester ants in the Arizona
desert shows how colonies regulate foraging to balance the tradeoff imposed by
spending water, while foraging in the desert sun, to obtain water, which is
metaboized from seeds. The goal is not to send out more ants than are justified
by the current food supply. The ants collect seeds that are widely scattered,
each retrieved by a single ant without the use of pheromone trails. The duration
of a foraging trip depends mostly on how long the forager had to search to find
a seed. A forager leaves the nest on its next trip in response to the rate at
which it meets foragers returning to the nest with food. Thus foraging activity
is adjusted to food availability without any information about the location of
food. I will discuss a model of the algorithm colonies use to regulate
foraging, and the ecological and evolutionary consequences of variation among


- Learn More

Deborah M Gordon is a Professor in the
Department of Biology at Stanford. Her research on the collective organization
of ant colonies includes studies of the long-term demography and behavior of
harvester ant colonies in Arizona; the factors that determine the spread of the
invasive Argentine ant in northern California; and the ecology of ant-plant
mutualisms in tropical forests in Central America. She is the author of two
books, Ants at Work (2000) and Ant Encounters:Interaction Networks and Colony
Behavior (2010). She has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation
and the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. She is interested in
analogies between ant colonies and other distributed networks, and has given
talks at TED, Xerox Park, Google Tech, Dagstuhl seminar on distributed
algorithms, and at robotics and artificial intelligence conferences.


March 25, 2011
11:00 am - 12:00 pm
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