Topology of the foraging trails of Leptogenys processionalis: why are they branched?

Ganeshaiah, K. N. ; Veena, T. (1991) Topology of the foraging trails of Leptogenys processionalis: why are they branched? Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 29 (4). pp. 263-270. ISSN 0340-5443

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Leptogenys processionalis Jerdon forages on termites and other arthropods by raiding in branched trails. Growth and topology of these search trails were studied using Horton's (1945) technique orginally developed to analyze the branching pattern of river systems. Branching was always a bifurcating process and branches emerged symmetrically on either side of the main trail. Branching coefficients {Rb} were similar to those of a few biological branching systems, such as lungs, that are considered to be non-random in their branching pattern. The Rb values indicated that the rate of branching and growth of trails remained constant within each foraging bout. The length of trails became shorter as they grew out and branched. The branching process was a function of the spatial separation of food patches in the terminal search field. Ants in the terminal search field send signals on encountering prey. The recruits cannot discriminate between these signals if they arise from two food patches situated <40 cm from each other, and hence converge on them in a single trail. However, discrimination is possible when food patches are >40 cm apart and hence recruits congregate on them separately in two trails, resulting in branching. Thus, the branching process is a result of independent decision by the ants conforming to certain simple rules and not a collective decision of the whole colony. We argue that mass recruiting ants selected to forage by branching pattern of trails because of its efficiency over other topologies (Stevens 1973) in minimizing the cost of travel, both from the nest to the food patches and between food patches. Further, the branch angles appear to be a trade-off to minimize travel cost and the resistance to the flow of ants comprising the column.

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