Grantee: Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
Researcher: Yun Kang, Ph.D.
Grant Title: Complex adaptive systems of social insect colonies: Emergence of scaling, social dynamics and evolution cooperation
Program Area: Studying Complex Systems
Grant Type: Scholar Award
Year Awarded: 2016
Duration: 4 years
Social insects such as ants, bees, wasps and termites, among the most diverse and ecologically important organisms on earth, live in intricately governed societies that rival our own in complexity and internal cohesion. As complex adaptive systems, colonies behave as integrated units and operate as distributed and cooperated systems with no central controller, such that higher level group organizational patterns are driven in large part by self-organization. Self-organization allows the simple behaviors of individuals to generate complex outcomes for the group with important properties such as resiliency, the ability to recover or maintain function in the face of environmental perturbation, and robustness, the ability to maintain an internal program or trajectory within a dynamic environment. These properties have led to an increased interest in the dynamics and organization of social insect colonies not only in biology but also in epidemiology, network routing, optimization theory and robotics.
Self-organizational models of behavior have made profound contributions to our understanding of social organization and cooperation, but the impacts of nonlinear social interaction dynamics on individual and group-level fitness outcomes with respect to the emergence scaling of the colony size are poorly understood and are rarely integrated into models of social behavior and evolution. Our proposed work will develop novel and new multi-level dynamical network models combined with empirical work to advance our understanding on how emergence of scaling, social dynamics and evolution cooperation arise, interact, and take effects in social insect colonies as complex adaptive systems.
My current work has been focused on ecological and evolutionary dynamics of social insect colonies including multiscale modeling of the division of labor in social insects. One of our recent work has discovered that small colonies invest more resources into colony growth, directing more worker ants toward riskier jobs like foraging; In larger colonies, more workers perform safer tasks inside the colony. We are also developing an evolutionary modeling framework in a dynamical environment to explore how collaborative behavior forms in social groups by comparing two species of ants, one in which queens start colonies on their own and another in which queens work together. Our current and ongoing work has laid the groundwork for the proposed research on how social organization scales with size, and how the emergent effects of social interactions (social dynamics) affect social phenotype and fitness, in the evolution of cooperative behavioral strategies.
By closely working with the Social Insect Research Group and the Simon A. Levin Mathematical and Computational Modeling Sciences Center at ASU where collaborations are already taken place, and the ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex Systems launched in 2015, our proposed research program will provide essential contributions to the questions of how group organization scales with size and why animals form cooperative groups which are central in social behavior and evolution.