Temnothorax rugatulus, like many ant species, has an inordinate fondness for sugar water! As a graduate student in the Pratt lab, my work capitalized on this love for carbohydrates as I examined the social foraging of colonies: the collective consequences to their mode of communication (tandem runs), and the ways that colonies focus exploitation on the most rewarding food sources. Ant social foraging can be viewed as just one aspect of colony homeostasis – where the behavior of individuals furthers the collective needs of the group. As far as complex systems go, ant societies make for wonderful teachers!
Ant colonies are marvelous computing entities, able to gather information from their environment and process it collectively. The focus of my research is to study emerging computation during collective decision-making by ant colonies. I use nest-site selection by Temnothorax rugatulus as case study and look at the flow of information during colony emigrations. Building on the framework of information theory, I am looking at answering questions such as where and when colonies store information, how information flows within the colony, and how much the information within the colony is integrated.
The study of animal personality is a rapidly growing field within animal behavior. However, much of the work has been focused on individual personalities. By viewing ant colonies as a singular functioning superorganisms, I study how collective personality is shaped and maintained in ant colonies. Are certain colonies consistently more aggressive and exploratory while others are cautious and reserved? To answer this question, I study tropicalAzteca ants that live inside Cecropia trees in the rainforests of Panama. This system involves a tightly-bound mutualism where trees provide food and shelter while ants provide rigorous protection from herbivores and encroaching vines. I am interested how colony personality plays a role in this intimate symbiosis. I am currently exploring how worker personality affects colony personality, how soil nutrients and elevation may effect colony behavior, and how colony behavior may shape leaf defensive chemical investment and decomposition rates.
John ‘Yohan’ Cho
Social animals often share information with one another about resources such as food or shelter. I am interested in information sharing during recruitment in ants. I ask questions like: what kind of information is shared between ants? Does transfer of information differ when the quality of target is different? To answer these questions, I use experiments to disentangle different possibilities, and collaborate with engineers to develop novel tools. For example, we use a robot with an ant dummy to lead other ants on preset paths, to test what information the followers gather from following the dummy.
I study collective decision making in honeybees. I began by studying how honeybees regulate the construction of different types of comb, but have since shifted my interests into studying how honeybees guard against other honeybees. Current theory suggests that how accepting guards bees are of incoming bees should be condition dependent. Better understanding the nature of these conditions is the current focus of my research.
Imagine that you and a group of your friends are going to throw a healthy potluck dinner. However, everyone can only bring one ingredient, and you cannot discuss plans ahead of time. How do you prevent everyone from bringing hamburger buns and no one bringing any patties? This is the problem ant colonies face: only a few foragers go “grocery shopping” for the entire colony, yet they manage to seemingly coordinate their behavior without any leader. The amount of protein and carbohydrates are successfully balanced at the level of the colony. Using an approach called the Geometric Framework (GF), I am uncovering the collective behavioral mechanisms behind this process. Additionally, along with my co-advisor Ted Pavlic, I am trying to straddle the divide between engineering and biology, using principles and examples from each to inform and enrich the other.
Professor of Biology, Mesa Community College