Research Fellows Directory
Dr Elva Robinson
University of York
How do social groups organise themselves, without centralised control? I use ant colonies as a model system to address this question, specifically to learn how the simple behavioural rules followed by individual ants interact to produce more complex collective behaviours. I explore a range of organisational questions, including: How does an ant colony effectively allocate tasks across its the workforce, and how responsive are the ants to changes in the need for particular tasks? How do the simple decisions made by individual ants with limited information combine to produce successful unanimous collective decisions? How do ants balance the need to recruit other ants to a good source of food, with the need to discover new food sources, without any ‘overseer’ ants instructing the foragers? How do invasive ants successfully dominate a new environment, overcoming competitors and adverse conditions?
Answering these questions will help us understand what mechanisms underlie the success of these amazingly well-organised but cognitively simple creatures. These insights will help us to predict and control the spread of invasive ant
species, but may also have wider social benefits. In our modern world, our control systems can become overloaded with information. The necessity of decentralised control is increasingly being recognised, for example in computer and
telecommunications networks or traffic control networks. By understanding more about how simple ants organise their societies in a flexible dynamic way that leads to sophisticated collective behaviour, I hope to provide to new insights into how to manage our own organisational systems.