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Artificial Life

Spring 1999, Vol. 5, No. 2, Pages 117-136
(doi: 10.1162/106454699568719)
© 1999 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Decentralized Control of Construction Behavior in Paper Wasps: An Overview of the Stigmergy Approach
Article PDF (326.62 KB)

Grassé [26] coined the term stigmergy (previous work directs and triggers new building actions) to describe a mechanism of decentralized pathway of information flow in social insects. In general, all kinds of multi-agent groups require coordination for their effort and it seems that stigmergy is a very powerful means to coordinate activity over great spans of time and space in a wide variety of systems. In a situation in which many individuals contribute to a collective effort, such as building a nest, stimuli provided by the emerging structure itself can provide a rich source of information for the working insects. The current article provides a detailed review of this stigmergic paradigm in the building behavior of paper wasps to show how stigmergy influenced the understanding of mechanisms and evolution of a particular biological system. The most important feature to understand is how local stimuli are organized in space and time to ensure the emergence of a coherent adaptive structure and to explain how workers could act independently yet respond to stimuli provided through the common medium of the environment of the colony.