Self-organization in Insect Societies: past, present and future

Nigel Franks (March 14, 2011)

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The application of self-organization theory to social insect studies is, for the most part, barely 20 years old. It has been remarkably successful because much of the new thinking and modelling that self-organization theory has brought to social insect studies has been very provocative, sometimes naive, and often oversimplifying; yet it has, almost invariably, lead to new experiments that have formed foundations for further progress. This has been a tale not of vicious circles but of virtuous ones. They are virtuous because errors and misunderstandings are exposed and corrected. They have gained great momentum from the natural, yet uneasy, tension between mathematical and empirical explanations. But most of all, they have been successful because mathematical modellers and experimentalists have worked together intimately both on the models and the experiments. In this talk, my aim is to illustrate these principles and the success of this endeavour by reviewing certain key examples. My goal is for this celebration of science past to suggest some of what might lie ahead.