All animals have to make decisions every day. Where will they live and what will they eat? How will they protect themselves? They often have to make these decisions as a group, too, turning what may seem like a simple choice into a far more nuanced process. So, how do animals know what’s best for their survival?
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. The findings are featured today in the early online edition of the scientific journal Biology Letters, as well as in its Dec. 23 edition.
Co-authors Taka Sasakiand 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?”