Deborah Gordon, Stanford University
Collective behavior operates without central control, through interactions among individuals. Like any phenotypic trait, the process that regulates collective behavior evolves in relation with a dynamic environment. Similar ecological constraints, in many natural systems from cells to ants, may correspond to similar algorithms that regulate collective outcomes. Some important aspects of the dynamics of the environment include stability, the threat of rupture or disturbance, the ratio of inflow and outflow of resources or energy, and the distribution of resources. These correspond to the dynamics of collective behavior, including the rate of amplification, how feedback instigates and inhibits activity, and whether information is spatially centralized. The collective behavior of ant colonies is based on simple olfactory interactions. Ant species differ enormously in the algorithms that regulate collective behavior, reflecting diversity in ecology. An example is the contrast between the regulation of foraging by harvester ants in the desert, where life is tough but stable, and by arboreal turtle ants in the tropical forest, where life is easy but unpredictable.
Flyer File: gordon_deborah_qsb_flyer.pdf