Thursday, November 15, 2007

“From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm”

Via Antomatic:

Yesterday’s New York Times Science section has a lengthy article that looks at some of the recent work by mathematical biologists Daniel Grunbaum and Iain Couzin on the instinct to swarm.

If you have ever observed ants marching in and out of a nest, you might have been reminded of a highway buzzing with traffic. To Iain D. Couzin, such a comparison is a cruel insult — to the ants.

Americans spend a 3.7 billion hours a year in congested traffic. But you will never see ants stuck in gridlock.

Army ants, which Dr. Couzin has spent much time observing in Panama, are particularly good at moving in swarms. If they have to travel over a depression in the ground, they erect bridges so that they can proceed as quickly as possible.

“They build the bridges with their living bodies,” said Dr. Couzin, a mathematical biologist at Princeton University and the University of Oxford. “They build them up if they’re required, and they dissolve if they’re not being used.”

The reason may be that the ants have had a lot more time to adapt to living in big groups. “We haven’t evolved in the societies we currently live in,” Dr. Couzin said.

[read the rest of the article]

The graphics that accompany the article are quite interesting, although unfortunately that’s not always obvious from the thumbnails displayed in the margin. Better descriptions would be most helpful.

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