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Biol Bull. 2002 Jun;202(3):306-13.

Individual complexity and self-organization in foraging by leaf-cutting ants.

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  • 1Zoologie II, Universit├Ąt W├╝rzburg, Biozentrum, Am Hubland, Germany.


Leaf-cutting ants cut vegetation into small fragments that they transport to the nest, where a symbiotic fungus cultivated by the ants processes the material. Since the harvested leaf fragments are incorporated into the fungus garden and not directly consumed by the workers, it is expected that foraging workers select plants by responding to those physical or chemical traits that promote maximal fungal growth, irrespective of the potential direct effects of these leaf features on them. In this paper I summarize experimental work focusing on the decision-making processes that occur at the individual level, and discuss to what extent individual complexity contributes to the emergence of collective foraging patterns. Although some basic features of self-organizing systems, such as the existence of regulatory positive and negative feedback loops, are expected to be involved in the collective organization of leaf-cutting ant foraging, I contend that they are combined with complex individual responses that may result from the integration of local information during food collection with an assessment of colony conditions.

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