by Brian Thomas, M.S.

Ants seem to cover the globe. The success of any ant colony depends on the inherent capabilities of its many working members. One of the capabilities of harvester ants relies on an algorithm that governs their foraging frequency. It happens to parallel an internet data management algorithm.

Harvester ants forage for seeds, with each ant carrying one seed at a time back to its colony. If too many ants are out harvesting seeds, ant resources are wasted, and the colony could receive a glut of produce that would create traffic jams and food overstocking issues. That could spell ant disaster. On the other hand, the whole colony starves if they fail to bring in enough seed for food. How do ants keep such tight regulation on this critical task? Researchers were also curious about how harvester ants accomplish this with no central administration.

The answer is that each ant carries its own understanding. By experimenting with harvester ants, biologists determined that when ants return with food more slowly, then more of them know to leave the colony to go foraging. Also, when ants return in large numbers, quickly filling the coffers, fewer go foraging.

Now, biologists and engineers from Stanford partnered together to find that an algorithm commonly used to regulate web traffic and other data streams closely matches that which harvester ants use to regulate harvesting traffic. They published their results in the online journal PLoS Computational Biology.1….

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