Energetic and time costs of foraging in harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis

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Western harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis, preferentially utilize low vegetational cover pathways. Energetic costs for foraging ants were less than 0.1% of caloric rewards of harvested seeds, suggesting that reduction of energetic cost is not a major benefit of this preference. Walking speed was significantly faster on lower cover routes, increasing net return rates from equidistant artificial food sources. Undisturbed foragers on low cover routes traveled farther, increasing their total foraging area without increasing foraging time. These results suggest that in animals with low costs of locomotion relative to energetic rewards, time costs are more important than direct energetic costs in influencing foraging decisions. In baited experiments with equidistant food sources, preferential use of low cover routes resulted in a large increase in net energetic gain rate, but only a slight increase in energetic efficiency. Under natural conditions, net energetic gain rates were constant for foragers using low and high vegetational cover routes, but foragers using low cover paths had lower efficiencies. This suggests that net energetic gain rate is a more important currency than energetic efficiency for foraging harvester ants.

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Fewell, J.H. Energetic and time costs of foraging in harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis . Behav Ecol Sociobiol 22, 401–408 (1988).

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  • Food Source
  • Vegetational Cover
  • Time Cost
  • Return Rate
  • Energetic Cost