Surface curvature guides early construction activity in mound-building termites

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2019
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Bardunias, Paul
Carey, Nicole
Turner, J. Scott
Nagpal, Radhika
Werfel, Justin
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Termite colonies construct towering, complex mounds, in a classic example of distributed agents coordinating their activity via interaction with a shared environment. The traditional explanation for how this coordination occurs focuses on the idea of a 'cement pheromone', a chemical signal left with deposited soil that triggers further deposition. Recent research has called this idea into question, pointing to a more complicated behavioural response to cues perceived with multiple senses. In this work, we explored the role of topological cues in affecting early construction activity in Macrotermes. We created artificial surfaces with a known range of curvatures, coated them with nest soil, placed groups of major workers on them and evaluated soil displacement as a function of location at the end of 1 h. Each point on the surface has a given curvature, inclination and absolute height; to disambiguate these factors, we conducted experiments with the surface in different orientations. Soil displacement activity is consistently correlated with surface curvature, and not with inclination nor height. Early exploration activity is also correlated with curvature, to a lesser degree. Topographical cues provide a long-term physical memory of building activity in a manner that ephemeral pheromone labelling cannot. Elucidating the roles of these and other cues for group coordination may help provide organizing principles for swarm robotics and other artificial systems. This article is part of the theme issue 'Liquid brains, solid brains: How distributed cognitive architectures process information'.

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570 Biowissenschaften, Biologie
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ISO 690CALOVI, Daniel S., Paul BARDUNIAS, Nicole CAREY, J. Scott TURNER, Radhika NAGPAL, Justin WERFEL, 2019. Surface curvature guides early construction activity in mound-building termites. In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B : Biological Sciences. Royal Society of London. 2019, 374(1774), 20180374. ISSN 0080-4622. eISSN 1471-2970. Available under: doi: 10.1098/rstb.2018.0374
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@article{Calovi2019Surfa-52062,
  year={2019},
  doi={10.1098/rstb.2018.0374},
  title={Surface curvature guides early construction activity in mound-building termites},
  number={1774},
  volume={374},
  issn={0080-4622},
  journal={Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B : Biological Sciences},
  author={Calovi, Daniel S. and Bardunias, Paul and Carey, Nicole and Turner, J. Scott and Nagpal, Radhika and Werfel, Justin},
  note={Article Number: 20180374}
}
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