Experimental investigation of ant traffic under crowded conditions

Elife. 2019 Oct 22;8:e48945. doi: 10.7554/eLife.48945.


Efficient transportation is crucial for urban mobility, cell function and the survival of animal groups. From humans driving on the highway, to ants running on a trail, the main challenge faced by all collective systems is how to prevent traffic jams in crowded environments. Here, we show that ants, despite their behavioral simplicity, have managed the tour de force of avoiding the formation of traffic jams at high density. At the macroscopic level, we demonstrated that ant traffic is best described by a two-phase flow function. At low densities there is a clear linear relationship between ant density and the flow, while at large density, the flow remains constant and no congestion occurs. From a microscopic perspective, the individual tracking of ants under varying densities revealed that ants adjust their speed and avoid time consuming interactions at large densities. Our results point to strategies by which ant colonies solve the main challenge of transportation by self-regulating their behavior.

Keywords: ants; collective behavior; ecology; foraging; linepithema humile; self-organization; traffic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food
  • Models, Biological
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Pheromones
  • Population Density
  • Running
  • Time Factors


  • Pheromones

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.8q58jg3