Many biological systems use extensive networks for the transport of resources and information. Ants are no exception. How do biological systems achieve efficient transportation networks in the absence of centralized control and without global knowledge of the environment? Here, we address this question by studying the formation and properties of inter-nest transportation networks in the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile). We find that the formation of inter-nest networks depends on the number of ants involved in the construction process. When the number of ants is sufficient and networks do form, they tend to have short total length but a low level of robustness. These networks are topologically similar to either minimum spanning trees or Steiner networks. The process of network formation involves an initial construction of multiple links followed by a pruning process that reduces the number of trails. Our study thus illuminates the conditions under and the process by which minimal biological transport networks can be constructed.

  • Received November 4, 2010.
  • Accepted January 14, 2011.
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