Twice a day for commuters in China’s big cities is inevitable. To the scientists’ puzzle, when the ant colony is foraging, a large number of ants are in the two-way flow of food back to their nests and out foraging, but they do not become congested. A recent study published in life reveals why ants don’t “block traffic”: Unlike mind-minded humans, the ant colony has a common goal – for the survival of the group.
Ants that also keep traffic flowing in narrow passages
Source sarestechnica, etc.
Compilation of Shiyunlei
Editing by Yang Xinzhou
Ants who don’t “plug”
Ants, by contrast, have more group behavior than humans, and are considered to be a model species of group behavior. When some ants are separated, they are a separate individual. But when they get together, it’s more like a single whole is acting. In the last decade, scientists have also done a lot of research on the group behavior of insects such as ants.
In 2008, German scientists created a miniature, cross-sectional path of ants in a laboratory. Ants need to pass through these roads, crawling back and forth between the nest and a source of sugary food. The researchers wanted to see how quickly the ants would find the shortest path between the two. They initially speculated that the ants would be stuck in traffic like the crowd. The result, however, is quite different from what was predicted, when, in fact, once foraging ants are stopped by ants carrying food back to their nests, they will find a new alternative path.
Last year, Daniel Goldman, a physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, studied how fire ants optimize channel mining efficiency. They dig up very narrow passages, only to allow two fire ants to pass at the same time, but there is very little congestion. This is because when a fire ant enters a passage that already has other fire ants working, it will look for another passage. This ensures that at any time, only a portion of the fire ants are digging the passage. Eventually 30% of the fire ants completed 70% of the excavation work.
It is still very mysterious that large numbers of ants are better at peak traffic than during peak human rush hour. A recent study published in eLife showed that even in crowded conditions, ants maintain smooth and efficient flow because they can take appropriate action depending on the environment.
Adaptive guaranteed traffic
In a new study, scientists at the Centre for Animal Cognition Research at the University of Toulouse in France and the University of Arizona in the United States tested Argentine ants. In the study, they used bridges to connect ant communities to the same food source. In addition, in order to better regulate the circulation density of the ant colony, they assigned different sizes of ants (from 400 to 25,600 ants) to different bridge widths. The scientists then conducted 170 experiments to monitor the ants’ traffic and record the number of ants traveling (number of ants covering a given distance in a unit of time, q), crawling speed (v) and the number of collisions between ants (C).
Ant Test Model
The researchers found that traffic remained fluid and stable when the number of ants accounted for 80 percent of the bridge’s area. In our human traffic, when pedestrians and cars account for only 40% of the road area, the speed of traffic begins to slow down.
What’s the secret of ants not being stuck in traffic? The key, the researchers found, is that ants can self-regulate behavior, and when the number of ants increases and traffic begins to congestion, they can adapt to the new “traffic rules” according to the needs of the environment.
As the density of ants on the bridge increases, the ant moves at a lower speed.
When ants enter a crowded road, for example, they adjust their behavior to ensure that the number of ants on the bridge does not exceed the maximum flow that the bridge width can provide.
The traffic flow of ants on the bridge increases with the density of ants and stabilizes.
Human traffic is mainly regulated by traffic regulations, communication between pedestrians or drivers (usually due to offensive behaviour) and negative feedback behavior (such as pedestrians or cars trying to squeeze forward). In the ant’s traffic, it is more positive feedback regulation (such as following and strengthening the trail of companion walking). The exchange between ants takes a little time, but is usually beneficial to the group as a whole because it facilitates the transmission of information.
When the density of ants increases, the number of contacts between ants increases, which also increases the time spent by ants in traffic.
The communication between ants is closely related to the dynamic change of traffic. In a study published in 2015, scientists found that fire ants communicated relatively briefly, at only 0.45 seconds, and that they were able to keep traffic flowing until they reached a quantitative threshold.
The new study found that Argentine ants communicate about twice as long as fire ants. Shorter communication times also mean that the ants can adjust their speed more quickly and still keep traffic flowing.
Collective higher than individual results
Of course, ants do not need to obey the traffic rules of human society, for example, even if there is no car in front of them to cross, the driver must stop in front of a red light. “In our society, traffic congestion is common because everyone has their own purpose, ” the study authors said. ” So they need to work together to ensure that they move back to their nests with the most food. “
When carrying food, the smoother the traffic they maintain, the more they can bring more food back to their nests. In addition, a study published in 2008 showed a natural contradiction between individual and collective interests. It is precisely because everyone has different purposes that we need to spend an additional 30% of our time on transportation.
The researchers call this “the price of chaos.” This is one reason why even widening highways will not reduce human traffic congestion. The way to improve human traffic problems may be to close some of the roads around the main road, because it can force drivers to find alternative routes like ants.
At present, how the ant colony has been maintaining the mechanism of smooth traffic is still unknown. Because this cluster is like a system in which many particles interact, by studying the cooperation between ants in the ant colony, we can acquire some useful principles to help scientists in many fields, including molecular biology, statistical physics, and electronic communications. These inspirations from the ant colonies may also help us program automated cars so that they can regulate their actions like ants and make traffic more efficient.