Time-ordered networks reveal limitations to information flow in ant colonies

Benjamin Blonder, Anna Dornhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Background: An important function of many complex networks is to inhibit or promote the transmission of disease, resources, or information between individuals. However, little is known about how the temporal dynamics of individual-level interactions affect these networks and constrain their function. Ant colonies are a model comparative system for understanding general principles linking individual-level interactions to network-level functions because interactions among individuals enable integration of multiple sources of information to collectively make decisions, and allocate tasks and resources. Methodology/Findings: Here we show how the temporal and spatial dynamics of such individual interactions provide upper bounds to rates of colony-level information flow in the ant Temnothorax rugatulus. We develop a general framework for analyzing dynamic networks and a mathematical model that predicts how information flow scales with individual mobility and group size. Conclusions/Significance: Using thousands of time-stamped interactions between uniquely marked ants in four colonies of a range of sizes, we demonstrate that observed maximum rates of information flow are always slower than predicted, and are constrained by regulation of individual mobility and contact rate. By accounting for the ordering and timing of interactions, we can resolve important difficulties with network sampling frequency and duration, enabling a broader understanding of interaction network functioning across systems and scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20298
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Time-ordered networks reveal limitations to information flow in ant colonies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this