First published July 1 2016
Shit Happens: The Spontaneous Self-Organisation of Communal Boundary Latrines via Stigmergy in a Null Model of the European Badger, Meles meles
The ability of European badgers to establish communal latrines at their territory boundaries is a well-known but poorly understood example of group-level biological organisation. To what extent might we expect it to arise via self-organisation rather than as the result of specific adaptations? This paper replicates and extends a model of badger foraging and territoriality to include defecation, fcotaxis and overmarking behaviours, and shows that communal boundary latrines arise spontaneously through stigmergy in both territorial and non-territorial badgers, with no need for specific cognitive or behavioural adaptations such as spatial memory, or individual recognition. The model suggests that fcotaxis and overmarking behaviours are necessary for boundary latrine formation, that culling has little effect on the prevalence of fcal sites (implicated in the spread of bovine tuberculosis in the UK), and that the spatial micro-structure of the environment is significant to the self-organisation process.