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Homeostatic self-regulation is a fundamental aspect of open dissipative systems. Integral feedback has been found to be important for homeostatic control on both the cellular and molecular levels of biological organization and in engineered systems. Analyzing the task allocation mechanisms of three insect societies, we identified a model of integral control residing at colony level. We characterized a general functional core mechanism, called the “common stomach,” where a crucial shared substance for colony function self-regulates its own quantity via reallocating the colony’s workforce, which collects and uses this substance. The central component in a redundant feedback network is the saturation level of this substance in the colony. An interaction network of positive and negative feedback loops ensures the homeostatic state of this substance and the workforce involved in processing this substance. Extensive sensitivity and stability analyses of the core model revealed that the system is very resilient against perturbations and compensates for specific types of stress that real colonies face in their ecosystems. The core regulation system is highly scalable, and due to its buffer function, it can filter noise and find a new equilibrium quickly after environmental (supply) or colony-state (demand) changes. The common stomach regulation system is an example of convergent evolution among the three different societies, and we predict that similar integral control regulation mechanisms have evolved frequently within natural complex systems.

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This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CC BY).

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.