Self-organized biotectonics of termite nests

Alexander Heyde, Lijie Guo, Christian Jost, Guy Theraulaz, and L. Mahadevan
PNAS February 2, 2021 118 (5) e2006985118

Termite nests are a remarkable example of functional self-organization that show how structure and function emerge on multiple length and time scales in ecophysiology. To understand the process by which this arises, we document the labyrinthine architecture within the subterranean nests of the African termite Apicotermes lamani and develop a simple mathematical model that relies on the physical and biological interactions between termites, pheromones, and mud in the nest. Our model explains the formation of parallel floors connected by linear and helical ramps, consistent with observations of real nests. In describing this multiagent system, we elucidate principles of physical and behavioral coupling with relevance to swarm intelligence and architectural design.

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