Typically, collective behaviour research has tended to focus on behaviour arising in populations of homogeneous agents. However, humans, animals, robots and software agents typically exhibit various forms of heterogeneity. In natural systems, this heterogeneity has often been associated with improved performance. In this work, we ask whether spatial interference within a population of co-operating mobile agents can be managed effectively via conflict resolution mechanisms that exploit the population’s intrinsic heterogeneity. An idealised model of foraging is presented in which a population of simulated ant-like agents is tasked with making as many journeys as possible back and forth along a route that includes tunnels that are wide enough for only one agent. Four conflict resolution schemes are used for determining which agent has priority when two or more meet within a tunnel. These schemes are tested in the context of heterogeneous populations of varying size. The findings demonstrate that a conflict resolution mechanism that exploits agent heterogeneity can achieve a significant reduction in the impact of spatial interference. However, whether or not a particular scheme is successful depends on how the heterogeneity that it exploits is implicated in the population-wide dynamics that underpin system-level performance.

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