, Volume 98, Issue 3-4, pp 328-335

Density-dependent foraging in the harvester ant Messor ebeninus: two experiments

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Abstract

Harvester ants are important seed predators in many xeric environments, and their foraging choices can influence the composition of plant communities. Seed abundance has been cited as an important factor in determining such foraging preferences. Three seed types (sesame, millet, and flax) were experimentally introduced in differing proportions near nests of the ant Messor ebeninus near the Dead Sea, in territory administered by the state of Israel. Two experiments were designed to investigate the effects of this density conditioning on two stages of the ants' subsequent foraging behavior: recruitment to seed patches and selection of seeds from within a patch. When seeds were presented in small, single-species patches, experimentally common seeds were discovered and exploited significantly faster than rare seeds, especially among less preferred seed types. When seeds were presented in large, mixed patches, however, no consistent effect of density was observed.