All animals have to make decisions every day. Where will they live and what will they eat? How will they protect themselves?
For the first time, Arizona State University researchers have discovered that at least in ants, animals can change their decision-making strategies based on experience. They can also use that experience to weigh different options.
Co-authors Taka Sasaki and Stephen Pratt, both with ASU’s School of Life Sciences, have studied insect collectives, such as ants, for years. Sasaki, a postdoctoral research associate, specializes in adapting psychological theories and experiments that are designed for humans to ants, hoping to understand how the collective decision-making process arises out of individually ignorant ants.
“The interesting thing is we can make decisions and ants can make decisions – but ants do it collectively,” said Sasaki. “So how different are we from ant colonies?”
To answer this question, Sasaki and Pratt gave a number ofTemnothorax rugatulus ant colonies a series of choices between two nests with differing qualities. In one treatment, the entrances of the nests had varied sizes, and in the other, the exposure to light was manipulated. Since these ants prefer both a smaller entrance size and a lower level of light exposure, they had to prioritize.
“It’s kind of like a humans and buying a house,” said Pratt, an associate professor with the school. “There’s so many options to consider – the size, the number of rooms, the neighborhood, the price, if there’s a pool. The list goes on and on. And for the ants it’s similar, since they live in cavities that can be dark or light, big or small. With all of these things, just like with a human house, it’s very unlikely to find a home that has everything you want.”