How does colony growth influence communication in ants?
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As Lasius niger societies grow from incipient nests to mature colonies, their foraging strategies shift from the individual exploitation of food sources to mass recruitment. Colony size instead of age is the key factor that shapes the exploratory and foraging responses of Lasius niger: a drastic reduction (or increase) of the population elicits an activity profile similar to that observed in younger (or older) societies of the same size. As a colony grows, the proportion of patrollers significantly decreases while the proportion of conveyors remains rather constant. As regards the energetic return, it increases with incipient nest size due to the replacement of minims by ordinary workers of larger crop capacity. We also demonstrate that minims of incipient nests modulate their trail-laying behaviour according to the social context, in this case the colony size. During their ontogenesis, L. niger colonies exhibit a progressive integration of individual foragers into a network of communication, the adaptive significance of which is discussed.
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