Collective Behaviour - Summer Seminar Series 2022
The self-assembling horde: building functional structures on the move
Simon Garnier, New Jersey Institute of Technology
This event is part of an event series „CASCB Seminar Series Summer 2022“.
A defining characteristic of army ants is the mobility of their colonies that relocate their massive populations sometimes every day, in search of new hunting grounds. That nomadic lifestyle is met with many logistical challenges posed by the complex and unpredictable terrains of the tropical forests these ants inhabit. In response, they have evolved the ability to build temporary support structures by dynamically attaching to and detaching from each other. These - literally - living architectures assemble and disassemble themselves to bridge gaps along the ants' foraging and migratory trails, form scaffolding to facilitate movement along steep surfaces, and even provide shelter to up to a million individuals at a time. During this talk, I will present recent findings on the principles that govern army ant self-assembling into complex, dynamical, and functional structures. I will focus on the behavioral mechanisms that allow these constructions to rapidly adapt to changing environmental conditions and to be resilient in the face of disruption. Finally, I will briefly discuss how these results fit into our general understanding of biological self-assembly and how they can impact areas in engineering interested in the design of complex systems for hard-to-predict and noisy environments.
Simon Garnier is an Associate Professor in the Biology Department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is the head of the Swarmlab, an interdisciplinary research lab that studies how stupid creatures can - sometimes - be smart in group, and why very smart beings will - often - form brainless crowds. In particular, the lab investigates how interactions between the different parts of a group can lead to extraordinarily efficient collective solutions, as well as snowballing catastrophes. This knowledge can then be used to solve complex problems such as the organization of traffic, the control of robotic swarms, and the functioning of large- scale social networks.