Co-authors Taka Sasaki and Stephen Pratt, both with Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences, have studied insect collectives, such as ants, for years.
Sasaki and Pratt gave a number of Temnothorax rugatulus ant colonies a series of choices between two nests with differing qualities.
In one treatment, the entrances of the nests had varied sizes, and in the other, the exposure to light was manipulated. Since these ants prefer both a smaller entrance size and a lower level of light exposure, they had to prioritize.
Pratt, an associate professor with the school, said that it's kind of like a humans and buying a house, asserting that there's so many options to consider - the size, the number of rooms, the neighborhood, the price, if there's a pool.
Pratt explainrf that because it is impossible to find the perfect habitat, ants make various tradeoffs for certain qualities, ordering them in a queue of most important aspects. But, when faced with a decision between two different homes, the ants displayed a previously unseen level of intelligence.
According to their data, the series of choices the ants faced caused them to reprioritize their preferences based on the type of decision they faced.
Ants that had to choose a nest based on light level prioritized light level over entrance size in the final choice. On the other hand, ants that had to choose a nest based on entrance size ranked light level lower in the later experiment.
The findings have been published in the early online edition of the scientific journal Biology Letters.