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Synergy between social and private information increases foraging efficiency in ants.
Insect societies integrate many information sources to organize collective activities such as foraging. Many ants use trail pheromones to guide foragers to food sources, but foragers can also use memories to find familiar locations of stable food sources. Route memories are often more accurate than trail pheromones in guiding ants, and are often followed in preference to trail pheromones when the two conflict. Why then does the system expend effort in producing and acquiring seemingly redundant and low-quality information, such as trail pheromones, when route memory is available? Here we show that, in the ant Lasius niger, trail pheromones and route memory act synergistically during foraging; increasing walking speed and straightness by 25 and 30 per cent, respectively, and maintaining trail pheromone deposition, but only when used together. Our results demonstrate a previously undescribed major role of trail pheromones: to complement memory by allowing higher confidence in route memory. This highlights the importance of multiple interacting information sources in the efficient running of complex adaptive systems.
UI="D000818">Animals, UI="D001000">Ants/UI="Q000502">physiology, UI="D005247">Feeding Behavior, UI="D008568">Memory, UI="D010675">Pheromones/UI="Q000502">physiology, UI="D016138">Walking
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