Ecology of Trail Networks
Many different self-organizing systems, such as neuronal networks, helper T cells, and social insect colonies, share similar algorithms to regulate the collective behavior of individuals (Gordon Plos Biol 2014). These similarities may have convergently evolved due to shared ecological pressures.
Ants are an excellent model system for examining the ecology of collective behavior. There are about 14,000 species of ants, and they cover an enormous range of habitats on earth! Ant colonies regulate their everyday functions, such as foraging for food, without central control. Unlike the immune system and neuronal networks, you can examine many of the ants' behaviors with your bare eyes. However, most research on the collective behavior of ants has focused on only a few species.
My aim is to focus on the ecology of how ants regulate foraging. In particular, I am focusing on the trails they form to lead each other between homes and to food sources. My experiments will focus on seriously underrated species of ants, and the mathematical side of my research will focus on comparing research from different species of ants to elucidate which ecological factors could influence differences and similarities in their trail networks.