Negative feedback may suppress variation to improve collective foraging performance

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Andreagiovanni Reina, J. A. R. Marshall


Social insect colonies use negative as well as positive feedback signals to regulate foraging behaviour. In ants and bees individual foragers have been observed to use negative pheromones or mechano-auditory signals to indicate that forage sources are not ideal, for example being unrewarded, crowded, or dangerous. Here we propose an alternative function for negative feedback signals during foraging, variance reduction. We show that while on average populations will converge to desired distributions over forage patches both with and without negative feedback signals, in small populations negative feedback reduces variation around the target distribution compared to the use of positive feedback alone. Our results are independent of the nature of the target distribution, providing it can be achieved by foragers collecting only local information. Since robustness is a key aim for biological systems, and deviation from target foraging distributions may be costly, we argue that this could be a further important and hitherto overlooked reason that negative feedback signals are used by foraging social insects.

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