Age-related repertoire expansion and division of labor in Pheidole dentata (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): a new perspective on temporal polyethism and behavioral plasticity in ants
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The controversy concerning the extent to which the organization of division of labor in social insects is a developmental process or is based on task allocation dynamics that emerge from colony need independent of worker age and endocrine or neural state has yet to be resolved. We present a novel analysis of temporal polyethism in the ant Pheidole dentata, demonstrating that task attendance by minor workers does not shift among spatially associated sets of behaviors that minimally overlap but rather expands with age. Our results show that the number of tasks performed by older minors increases through the addition and retention of behaviors, with up to a sixfold increase in repertoire size from day 1 to day 20 of adult life. We also show that older minors respond to colony needs by performing significantly more brood care as its demand increases, indicating that they can quickly upregulate nursing according to labor requirements. This level of plasticity was absent in younger siblings. The breadth of responsiveness to task-related olfactory stimuli increased with age. In a binary choice test in which young and old minor workers could orient toward odorants from brood or food, older workers responded to both brood and food, whereas young workers responded only to brood. These dissimilar responses to stimuli associated with nursing and foraging indicate age-related differences in sensory ability and provide a physiological basis for the age-related repertoire expansion model. We discuss repertoire expansion in P. dentata in light of behavioral development and caste flexibility in ants.
KeywordsCaste Social insect Behavioral development Olfaction
We thank Sam Beshers and anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on the manuscript, and we are grateful to Sanford Porter and Lloyd Davis for the assistance in the collection of colonies and the use of their laboratory facilities. This research was supported in part by NSF Grant IBN-0116857 (J. Traniello and R. Rosengaus, coPIs).
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