Determining how ant colonies optimize foraging while mitigating pathogen and predator risks provides insight into how the ants have achieved ecological success. Ants must respond to changing resource conditions, but exploration comes at a cost of higher potential exposure to threats. Fungal infected cadavers surround the main foraging trails of the carpenter ant Camponotus rufipes, offering a system to study how foragers behave given the persistent occurrence of disease threats. Studies on social insect foraging behavior typically require many hours of human labor due to the high density of individuals. To overcome this, we developed deep learning based computer vision algorithms to track foraging ants, frame-by-frame, from video footage shot under the natural conditions of a tropical forest floor at night. We found that most foragers walk in straight lines overlapping the same areas as other ants, but there is a subset of foragers with greater exploration. Consistency in walking behavior may protect most ants from infection, while foragers that explore unique portions of the trail may be more likely to encounter fungal spores implying a trade-off between resource discovery and risk avoidance.
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