|One ant carries another to her new home
|Individual ants can choose between a good and a bad nest
site, but have difficulty with eight. Colonies have no
problems with either set up.
So groups are better than individuals? The crowd is always wise? Well, not always. Next Takao looked at how decision-making difficulty affects the ability of colonies to choose the best of two nests. He showed that, as in his earlier work, the colony was better than the individual at choosing when a difficult decision had to be made. But when the decision was straightforward, and one of the potential homes was a lot better than the other, the colonies got it wrong more often than the individuals.
Takao's latest paper is on learning. When ants repeatedly experience, for example, very light nests (which they like), then they put a premium on very dark nests. On the other hand, if they experience, nests with large entrances (again something they don't line), then they put a premium on narrow entrances. Again the ants are a bit like us.
Takao's PhD supervisor and co-author on the above work is Stephen Pratt, who I have known and worked with for many years. Stephen and my work together focussed more on the mechanisms these ants use to make good group decisions. Takao's thesis really takes a whole new direction by testing ideas from cognitive science on ants, and I think the award is very fitting. Well done!
And don't worry if you happen to be human. One day we will prove that we are smarter than ants, but we are still a long way off.