Behavioral mechanisms of collective nest-site choice by the ant Temnothorax curvispinosus

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92 Scopus citations


This paper examines the individual behavior underlying collective choice among nest sites by the ant Temnothorax (formerly Leptothorax) curvispinosus. Colonies can actively compare options, rejecting a mediocre site when it is paired with a good one, but accepting the same mediocre design if it is instead paired with a worse site. This ability emerges from the behavior of an active minority of workers who organize emigrations. When one of these finds a promising site, she recruits nest mates to it, but only after a delay that varies inversely with site quality. Ants first recruit fellow active ants via slow tandem runs, but eventually switch to speedier transports of the colony's passive majority. Later transports grow faster still, as ants improve their speed with experience. An ant's choice of recruitment type is governed by a quorum rule, such that her likelihood of starting to transport increases with the population of the new site. The size of the quorum depends on experience, with ants demanding a larger population to launch immediately into transport than they do to switch to transport after first leading a few tandem runs. Perception of quorum attainment requires direct contact between ants. The ants' behavior qualitatively matches that of T. albipennis, where models have shown that decentralized choice of the best site depends on quality-dependent recruitment delays, amplified by a quorum rule for initiating transport. Parameter estimates for an agent-based model show significant quantitative differences between the species, and suggest that T. albipennis may place relatively greater emphasis on emigration speed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-392
Number of pages10
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Collective decision-making
  • Leptothorax
  • Nest-site selection
  • Quorum sensing
  • Temnothorax curvispinosus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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