Australian Mathematical Society
Mathematics Department at Macquarie University

AMS Medal George Szekeres Medal B H Neumann Prize

Homepage Conference Detail and Conference Bag Enquiries
Welcome Party Opening Ceremony Timetable Conference Dinner
Academic Program Plenary Talks Special Sessions Abstracts
Organizing Committee Program Committee Book Launch Subject Review
Education Afternoon Book Display and Software Demonstration Important Deadlines
Local Information Social Program Registration Accommodation


50th Annual Meeting of the Australian Mathematical Society

Education Afternoon Talk


Mary Myerscough (University of Sydney)


House Hunting and the Dynamics of Dancing: Mathematics among the Social Insects


Recently mathematicians and engineers have become interested in modelling the behaviour of social insects such as ants, bees and termites. These insects are simple individuals who interact with their nest mates in simple ways. Many hundreds or thousands of these insects together form a colony that exhibits finely tuned, subtle and sophisticated behaviour. There are clear analogies between social insects and neurons in the brain, components in a computer or individuals in a human society. As an example of how individual behaviour can generate a colony-wide outcome, I will discuss some mathematical modelling that has helped find how honeybees use dances to choose between potential new nest sites.

In the spring a swarm of bees may leave the hive and settle in a hanging cluster while scout bees search for a new nest. A scout that has found a suitable new home returns to the swarm and communicates the location and quality of the new site to other bees by waggle dances. Each of the scout bees need only visit one potential nest site. Nevertheless, the swarm is able to reliably choose the best available site. Mathematics gives a clear insight into how the bees perform this decentralised decision making.