Termite construction projects do not have architects, engineers or brigades, but these insects are larger than the world. The way they do it has long been puzzled by scientists.
Now researchers from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences John A. Paulson and the Department of Organism and Evolutionary Biology have developed a simplified model that shows how external environmental factors, such as daytime temperature changes, cause internal streams in the mound to move the Pheromone-like signs around, triggering the behavior of buildings in individual termites. These changes change the internal environment, causing new behavior and the cycle continues.
The model explains how environmental differences lead to different morphologies of termite mounds in Asia, Australia, Africa and South America.
This new framework shows how simple rules linking environmental physics and animal behavior can create complex structures in nature. It sheds light on the broader questions about swarms' intelligence and can serve as inspiration for designing a more sustainable human architecture.
The study is published in the reports of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Our theoretical framework shows how living systems can create micro-environments that embed matter and flow into complex architectures using simple rules, focusing on perhaps the most famous example of animal architecture – termite mounds," says L. Mahadevan, Lola England de Walpinne Professor of Applied Mathematics, Professor of Organism and Evolutionary Biology and Physics, and senior author of the study. "As Winston Churchill once said:" We are shaping our buildings and then shaping us. "We can quantify this statement by showing how complex structures arise by linking the physics of the environment to simple collective behavior on much larger scale than the body.