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.
Animal behaviors form various macro-scale patterns such as structures, movement patterns, and rhythms. How are these patterns created by behavioral rules and shaped by evolution? I am looking for answers to these questions by observing various behaviors of termites. These include the mate search behavior of individual termite reproductives, as well as complex colony behaviors that are coordinated by thousands of individuals. My current focus is on the evolutionary process of collective building. I am seeking a framework which can explain the nest building mechanisms of all termite species.
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!
By viewing ant colonies as a superorganisms, I study how collective personalities are shaped and maintained, focusing on colonies of Azteca ants that live inside Cecropia trees in the rainforests of Panama. This system is a tightly-bound mutualism where trees provide food and shelter while ants protect their hosts from herbivores and encroaching vines. I am interested in the role of colony personality in this intimate symbiosis. I explore how worker personality affects colony personality, how soil nutrients may effect colony behavior, and how colony behavior may shape plant investment in defensive chemicals.
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 are going to throw a potluck dinner. Each guest can bring one ingredient, and they cannot discuss plans ahead of time. How do you stop 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 coordinate their behavior without any leader. I am working to uncover the behavioral mechanisms behind this process. Along with my co-advisor Ted Pavlic, I am straddling the divide between engineering and biology, using principles and examples from each to inform and enrich the other.
Adjunct Faculty, Mesa Community College