Article révisé par les pairs
Résumé : When selecting a resource to exploit, an insect colony must take into account at least two constraints: the resource must be abundant enough to sustain the whole group, but not too large to limit exploitation costs, and risks of conflicts with other colonies. Following recent results on cockroaches and ants, we introduce here a behavioral mechanism that satisfies these two constraints. Individuals simply modulate their probability to switch to another resource as a function of the local density of conspecifics locally detected. As a result, the individuals gather at the smallest resource that can host the whole group, hence reducing competition and exploitation costs while fulfilling the overall group's needs. Our analysis reveals that the group becomes better at discriminating between similar resources as it grows in size. Also, the discrimination mechanism is flexible and the group readily switches to a better suited resource as it appears in the environment. The collective decision emerges through the self-organization of individuals, that is, in absence of any centralized control. It also requires a minimal individual cognitive investment, making the proposed mechanism likely to occur in other social species and suitable for the development of distributed decision making tools. © 2011 Campo et al.