Transient division of labor and behavioral specialization in the ant Formica schaufussi
Cooperative prey retrieval in the monomorphic ant Formica schaufussi is carried out by workers that perform functionally distinct roles which persist only for the duration of a single retrieval event. A forager (scout) that locates prey too large to retrieve individually organizes cooperative prey transport by recruiting nestmates (recruits) to assist in retrieval. The scout and recruit roles appear to be determined by whether a worker activates recruitment or is recruited from the nest. Scouts organize recruitment and play a key role in maintaining the cohesion of the retrieval group. If a scout that has initiated group transport is experimentally removed, the recruited workers composing the retrieval group typically abandon the prey and cooperative foraging is terminated. In this context, recruits are unable to function as scouts and reorganize group transport. Individuals marked as recruits in one prey retrieval, however, can switch and act as scouts in subsequent retrievals. Because the roles of individuals persist within but not between retrieval events, the specialization involved in cooperative prey retrieval cannot easily be explained as a response associated with age-related or genetic predispositions. This transient division-of-labor, in which individual roles may persist only for the duration of a single group action, represents a novel type of short-term individual specialization.