Collective transport in polydomous ants

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Sponsoring College, Department, School or Center: 
School of Computing Informatics & Decision Systems Engineering
Faculty Name: 
Ted Pavlic
Preferred Skills or Majors: 

Any student with a strong interest in behavioral biology.

Closing Date: 
December 7, 2018
Location or Campus: 
Tempe campus
Hours Per Week: 
6-10 or more

Desired Academic Year: 
Project Description: 

Social insects provide striking natural cases of group decision making in decentralized teams. Groups of individuals spontaneously form and collaborate to solve complex problems with no apparent leader and then dissipate when the problem is resolved. Two species of the ant genus Novomessor that are native to the Arizona desert are good examples of this. In both species, individuals who discover large food items that are too large to carry by themselves are joined by other individuals who assist in team transport. Despite slight rotations of the object and changes in team composition as it moves, the objects move in nearly straight trajectories at near constant velocities back to a nest entrance. To complicate matters, these ants distribute their colonies across complex of disconnected satellite nests. Thus, ants in the transport team not only must coordinate short-term behaviors to manage carrying the large load, but the ants must also make a collective decision on which nest entrance to bring the load to.

We are seeking student researchers to assist in studies aimed at better understanding the mechanisms underlying this behavior. Students will assist in designing and executing laboratory experiments with these ants (with a potential for field work) and may also be involved in the processing of video data from these experiments. Students will also assist in husbandry required to maintain these ant colonies over the studies.

Depending on the number and interests of students available, students may also (or instead) assist with additional projects involving other collective behaviors of other ants.

Application Instructions and Contact Info: 

Students interested in this opportunity should contact Dr. Theodore Pavlic ( by e-mail. Each interested student should include in the e-mail:
• An up-to-date resume
• A statement of why s/he is interested in this opportunity

Work on this project may start as early as this semester. Interested students are encouraged to contact Dr. Pavlic as soon as possible.