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How does food distance influence foraging in the ant Lasius niger: the importance of home-range marking

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We study the influence of food distance on the individual foraging behaviour of Lasius niger scouts and we investigate which cue they use to assess their distance from the nest and accordingly tune their recruiting behaviour.

Globally, the number of U-turns made by scouts increases with distance resulting in longer travel times and duration of the foraging cycle. However, over familiar areas, home-range marking reduces the frequency and thereby the impact of U-turns on foraging times leading to a quicker exploitation of food sources than over unmarked set-ups. Regarding information transfer, the intensity of the recruitment trail reaching the nest decreases with increasing food distance for all set-ups and is even more reduced in the absence of home-range marking. Hence, the probability of a scout continuing to lay a trail changes along the homeward journey but in a different way according to home-range marking. Over unexplored setups, at a given distance from the food source, the percentage of returning trail-laying ants remains unchanged for all tested nest-feeder distances. Hence, the tuning of the trail recruiting signal by scouts was not influenced by an odometric estimate of the distance already travelled by the ants during their outward journey to the food. By contrast, over previously explored set-ups, a distance-related factor – that is the intensity of home-range marking – strongly influences their recruiting behaviour. In fact, over a home-range marked bridge, the probability of returning ants maintaining their trail-laying behaviour increases with decreasing food distance while the gradient of home-range marks even induces ants which have stopped laying a trail to resume this behaviour in the nest vicinity.

We suggest that home-range marking laid passively by walking ants is a relevant cue for scouts to indirectly assess distance from the nest but also local activity level or foraging risks in order to adaptively tune trail recruitment and colony foraging dynamics.

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Correspondence to C. Devigne.

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Received 13 July 2004; revised 26 January and 20 May 2005; accepted 2 July 2005.

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Devigne, C., Detrain, C. How does food distance influence foraging in the ant Lasius niger: the importance of home-range marking. Insect. Soc. 53, 46–55 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-005-0834-9

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  • Distance assessment
  • foraging distance
  • home-range marking
  • Lasius niger