How ants avoid wasted effort: new research

Usually we think of the importance of sharing 'positive' intelligence between organisational team members (for example Virtual Team Behavior - Curiosity and Learning). However recent UK research on foraging Pharaoh ants indicates that sharing 'negative' intelligence to avoid wasted effort may be just as important.

In Scents and sensibility: How foraging ants get the food we read how Pharaoh ants scouting for food place a tiny scent marker on branches that do not lead to a reward, according to a study just published in Nature, the weekly British science journal.

The team concludes that the ants use a repellent pheromone to mark unrewarding branches at "decision-points" - where branches fork.

"It provides advance warning, like human road signs situated before junctions," the authors suggest.

Pheromone-based messaging is the oldest and most evolved form of biological signalling and its potential application in mobile and distributed human teams is described in The perfect mobile group communications system.

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The good thing about a pheromone marker is that it fades over time; it has a built-in sunset clause. A path that was once deemed unproductive can be re-explored and re-evaluated in the future when conditions have changed.

Very good point - I really the idea of 'sunset clauses' on experience and information. It is too easy to say this always/never works and not re-evaluate. I guess this what makes the difference between a team having 10 years experience and a team having 1 years experience repeated 10 times.


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