Ants combine systematic meandering and correlated random walks when searching for unknown resources

Stefan Popp, Anna Dornhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Animal search movements are typically assumed to be mostly random walks, although non-random elements may be widespread. We tracked ants (Temnothorax rugatulus) in a large empty arena, resulting in almost 5 km of trajectories. We tested for meandering by comparing the turn autocorrelations for empirical ant tracks and simulated, realistic Correlated Random Walks. We found that 78% of ants show significant negative autocorrelation around 10 mm (3 body lengths). This means that turns in one direction are likely followed by turns in the opposite direction after this distance. This meandering likely makes the search more efficient, as it allows ants to avoid crossing their own paths while staying close to the nest, avoiding return-travel time. Combining systematic search with stochastic elements may make the strategy less vulnerable to directional inaccuracies. This study is the first to find evidence for efficient search by regular meandering in a freely searching animal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105916
JournaliScience
Volume26
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 17 2023

Keywords

  • Biological sciences
  • Evolutionary biology
  • Systematics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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