Scaling of ant colony interaction networks

J. M. Toth, Jennifer H. Fewell, James S. Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In social insect colonies, individuals are physically independent but functionally integrated by interaction networks which provide a foundation for communication and drive the emergence of collective behaviors, including nest architecture, division of labor, and potentially also the social regulation of metabolic rates. To investigate the relationship between interactions, metabolism, and colony size, we varied group size for harvester ant colonies (Pogonomyrmex californicus) and assessed their communication networks based on direct antennal contacts and compared these results with proximity networks and a random movement simulation. We found support for the hypothesis of social regulation; individuals did not interact with each other randomly but exhibited restraint. Connectivity scaled hypometrically with colony size, per-capita interaction rate was scale-invariant, and smaller colonies exhibited higher measures of closeness centrality and edge density, correlating with higher per-capita metabolic rates. Although the immediate energetic cost for two ants to interact is insignificant, the downstream effects of receiving and integrating social information can have metabolic consequences. Our results indicate that individuals in larger colonies are relatively more insulated from each other, a factor that may reduce or filter noisy stimuli and contribute to the hypometric scaling of their metabolic rates, and perhaps more generally, the evolution of larger colony sizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number993627
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - Jan 9 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • agent-based model
  • allometry
  • complexity
  • interaction
  • networks
  • scaling
  • social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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