Extraordinary starvation resistance in Temnothorax rugatulus (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) colonies: Demography and adaptive behavior
Ant colony mortality has not been sufficiently studied, even though it is crucial for understanding social insect population biology and can serve as an important model for general aging and mortality processes. Particularly, studies on proximate mechanisms on mortality and stress resistance of ant colonies are lacking. This study explores the long-term colony starvation resistance of the small myrmecine ant Temnothorax rugatulus. We report extraordinary starvation resistance in the 21 colonies investigated, as most survived the eight months of total starvation. Furthermore, we studied demographic and behavioral changes over the experimental period. Brood decline began first (after two months) and mortality was highest, worker decline was intermediate, and queen mortality started latest and remained lowest. We found brood (its relative change during the first four months and the level of brood relative to colony size) to be the only significant predictor of colony starvation resistance, but not the degree of polygyny. As expected, rates of trophallaxis increased during the starvation period while colony activity bouts occurred more frequently but were much shorter, leading to an overall decrease in activity levels. This study is the first to comprehensively study mechanisms of starvation resistance in ant colonies, linking demography and behavior.
Key words.Activity cycles adaptive demography mortality starvation stress superorganism
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