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Grocery Shopping in Ant Colonies

Date/time: Friday, December 14. 15:00-16:00.

Room: 145, 25 Exhibition walk at Clayton.

Talk: Grocery Shopping in Ant Colonies

Speaker: Andrew Burchill - Arizona State University

Successful grocery trips involve two main components: planning healthy meals and bringing the food home. Ants face these same challenges while foraging. As a colony, they must collect as nutritionally balanced a diet as possible, all without centralized leadership or ability to plan in advance. Additionally, large prey items–hundreds of times as massive as a single ant–must be cooperatively retrieved and brought to the nest. I describe my research on colony-level nutrient regulation and its proximate mechanisms. I demonstrate that ant colonies DO regulate macronutrients and show that it may be driven by forager specialization. I also introduce my current work on collective transport up shear vertical surfaces and I explain the differences between it and horizonal transport.

Andrew Burchill is a PhD student at Arizona State University's social insect research group, advised by Stephen Pratt and Ted Pavlic. He studies decentralized collective behavior in ant colonies with an eye towards applying this behavior to engineering systems. For the last six months, Andrew has been working with Chris Reid at Macquarie University, investigating how weaver ants cooperate to transport large prey items up vertical surfaces. However, his usual research focuses on how ants solve colony-level nutrient regulation—known as a decentralized multi-objective optimization problem among engineers. Andrew's side interests range from spider-ant mimicry, underground nest architecture, and the physics of droplet-carrying in ants.