Key factors for the emergence of collective decision in invertebrates

Front Neurosci. 2012 Aug 20;6:121. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00121. eCollection 2012.


In many species of group living invertebrates, in particular arthropods, collective decisions can emerge from the combined actions of individuals and the direct or indirect interactions between individuals. These decisions allow groups of individuals to respond quickly and accurately to changes that occur in their environment. Examples of such decisions are found in a variety of invertebrate taxa and in many different contexts, e.g., exploring a new territory, foraging for food, finding a suitable location where to aggregate or to establish a nest, defending oneself against predators, etc. In this paper we review the collective decisions that have been documented in different invertebrate taxa where individuals are known to live temporarily or permanently in social or gregarious groups. We first present some simple examples of collective decisions involving the choice between two alternatives. We then define the fundamental rules required for these collective decisions to emerge throughout the invertebrate taxon, from simple organisms such as caterpillars, to animals endowed with highly developed perceptive and cognitive capacities such as ants and bees. The presentation of these rules gives us the opportunity to illustrate one of the pitfalls of the study of collective choice in animals by showing through computer simulations how a choice between two alternatives can be misinterpreted as the result of the action of self-organized mechanisms. In the second part, we discuss the peculiarities of collective decisions in invertebrates, their properties, and characteristics. We conclude by discussing the issue of individual complexity in collective decision-making process.

Keywords: collective decision; emergence; insect; invertebrate; non-linearity; self-organization; social interactions.