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Ant Colonies Avoid Traffic Jams

蚁群可以避开交通堵塞

Anyone who commutes by car knows that traffic jams are an inevitable part of life. But humans are not alone in facing potential backups. Ants also commute—between their nest and sources of food. The survival of their colonies depends on doing this efficiently.

开车上下班的人都知道交通堵塞是生活中不可避免的一部分。但并非只有人类面临潜在的危险。蚂蚁也往返于它们的巢穴和食物来源之间。他们的殖民地的生存依赖于此种方式。

“The more there are, the more food they’re going to bring back. But at the same time, they might end up with traffic jam because there are too many of them.”Arizona State University mathematician Sebastien Motsch. When humans commute, there’s a point at which cars become dense enough to slow down the flow of traffic, causing gridlock. Motsch and his colleagues wanted to know if ants on the move could also get clogged. So they manipulated traffic density by constructing bridges of various widths between a colony of Argentine ants and a source of food. Then they waited and watched.

“那里的食物越多,它们带回的食物就越多。但与此同时,可能会结束交通堵塞,因为有太多的蚁群,”亚利桑那州立大学的数学家Sebastien Motsch说。当人类通勤时,汽车密度达到一定程度,从而减缓交通流量,造成交通堵塞。Motsch和他的同事想知道移动中的蚂蚁是否也会被堵塞。因此,他们通过在阿根廷蚁群和食物来源之间建造不同宽度的桥梁来控制交通密度。然后他们等着观看。

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“The goal was to try to find out at what point they are going to have a traffic jam. But it appears that that never happened. They never, at one point, just stopped. They always managed to avoid traffic jam.”

“我们的目标是找出蚁群什么时候会遇到交通堵塞。但这似乎从未发生过。蚁群从来没有停止过移动。它们总是设法避免交通堵塞。”

The flow of ants did increase initially as ants started to fill the bridge and then leveled off at high densities. But it never slowed down, even when the bridge was nearly saturated with ants. The researchers then took a closer look at how the behavior of individual ants impacted traffic as a whole. That meant meticulously tracking thousands of separate ants as they made their way across the bridge.

当蚂蚁开始填满桥梁,然后在高密度时趋于稳定,蚂蚁的流量开始增加。即使是在桥上几乎满是蚂蚁的时候,但它从来没有慢下来。然后,研究人员进一步观察了单个蚂蚁的行为是如何影响整个交通的。这意味着在数千只不同的蚂蚁通过这座桥的时候,要小心翼翼地跟踪它们。

Motsch and his team found that when ants sense overcrowding, they adjust their speeds and avoid entering high-density areas, which prevents congestion. These behaviors may be facilitated by pheromones, chemicals that tell other ants where a trail is. The ants also manage to avoid colliding with each other at high densities, which could really slow them down.The study is in the journal eLife.

Motsch和他的团队发现,当蚂蚁感觉到过度拥挤时,它们会调整速度,避免进入高密度区域,从而避免拥挤。这些行为可能是信息素促成的,信息素是一种化学物质,可以告诉其他蚂蚁路线的位置。这些蚂蚁还设法避免在高密度的情况下发生碰撞,否则它们的速度会减慢。这项研究发表在《eLife》杂志上。

Can ants help us solve our own traffic problems? Not likely, says Motsch. That’s because when it comes to getting from point A to point B as fast as possible, human drivers put their own goals first. Individual ants have to be more cooperative in order to feed the colony. But the research could be useful in optimizing traffic flow for self-driving cars, which can be designed to be less like selfish humans—and more like ants.

蚂蚁能帮助我们解决交通问题吗?不太可能,Motsch说。这是因为,当涉及到以尽可能快的速度从A点到达B点时,人类司机会把自己的目标放在首位。为了给蚁群提供食物,单个蚂蚁必须更加合作。但这项研究可能有助于优化自动驾驶汽车的交通流量,因为自动驾驶汽车可以被设计得不那么像自私的人类,而更像蚂蚁。

Ant Colonies Avoid Traffic Jams

Anyone who commutes by car knows that traffic jams are an inevitable part of life. But humans are not alone in facing potential backups. Ants also commute—between their nest and sources of food. The survival of their colonies depends on doing this efficiently.

“The more there are, the more food they’re going to bring back. But at the same time, they might end up with traffic jam because there are too many of them.”Arizona State University mathematician Sebastien Motsch. When humans commute, there’s a point at which cars become dense enough to slow down the flow of traffic, causing gridlock. Motsch and his colleagues wanted to know if ants on the move could also get clogged. So they manipulated traffic density by constructing bridges of various widths between a colony of Argentine ants and a source of food. Then they waited and watched.

“The goal was to try to find out at what point they are going to have a traffic jam. But it appears that that never happened. They never, at one point, just stopped. They always managed to avoid traffic jam.”

The flow of ants did increase initially as ants started to fill the bridge and then leveled off at high densities. But it never slowed down, even when the bridge was nearly saturated with ants. The researchers then took a closer look at how the behavior of individual ants impacted traffic as a whole. That meant meticulously tracking thousands of separate ants as they made their way across the bridge.

Motsch and his team found that when ants sense overcrowding, they adjust their speeds and avoid entering high-density areas, which prevents congestion. These behaviors may be facilitated by pheromones, chemicals that tell other ants where a trail is. The ants also manage to avoid colliding with each other at high densities, which could really slow them down.The study is in the journal eLife.

Can ants help us solve our own traffic problems? Not likely, says Motsch. That’s because when it comes to getting from point A to point B as fast as possible, human drivers put their own goals first. Individual ants have to be more cooperative in order to feed the colony. But the research could be useful in optimizing traffic flow for self-driving cars, which can be designed to be less like selfish humans—and more like ants.


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