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Social insect colony as a biological regulatory system: modelling information flow in dominance networks

, : Social insect colony as a biological regulatory system: modelling information flow in dominance networks. Journal of the Royal Society, Interface 11(101): 20140951-20140951

Social insects provide an excellent platform to investigate flow of information in regulatory systems since their successful social organization is essentially achieved by effective information transfer through complex connectivity patterns among the colony members. Network representation of such behavioural interactions offers a powerful tool for structural as well as dynamical analysis of the underlying regulatory systems. In this paper, we focus on the dominance interaction networks in the tropical social wasp Ropalidia marginata-a species where behavioural observations indicate that such interactions are principally responsible for the transfer of information between individuals about their colony needs, resulting in a regulation of their own activities. Our research reveals that the dominance networks of R. marginata are structurally similar to a class of naturally evolved information processing networks, a fact confirmed also by the predominance of a specific substructure-the 'feed-forward loop'-a key functional component in many other information transfer networks. The dynamical analysis through Boolean modelling confirms that the networks are sufficiently stable under small fluctuations and yet capable of more efficient information transfer compared to their randomized counterparts. Our results suggest the involvement of a common structural design principle in different biological regulatory systems and a possible similarity with respect to the effect of selection on the organization levels of such systems. The findings are also consistent with the hypothesis that dominance behaviour has been shaped by natural selection to co-opt the information transfer process in such social insect species, in addition to its primal function of mediation of reproductive competition in the colony.


PMID: 25320069

DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2014.0951

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