Radio tagging reveals the roles of corpulence, experience and social information in ant decision making
- 761 Downloads
Ant colonies are factories within fortresses (Oster and Wilson 1978). They run on resources foraged from an outside world fraught with danger. On what basis do individual ants decide to leave the safety of the nest? We investigated the relative roles of social information (returning nestmates), individual experience and physiology (lipid stores/corpulence) in predicting which ants leave the nest and when. We monitored Temnothorax albipennis workers individually using passive radio-frequency identification technology, a novel procedure as applied to ants. This method allowed the matching of individual corpulence measurements to activity patterns of large numbers of individuals over several days. Social information and physiology are both good predictors of when an ant leaves the nest. Positive feedback from social information causes bouts of activity at the colony level. When certain social information is removed from the system by preventing ants returning, physiology best predicts which ants leave the nest and when. Individual experience is strongly related to physiology. A small number of lean individuals are responsible for most external trips. An individual’s nutrient status could be a useful cue in division of labour, especially when public information from other ants is unavailable.
KeywordsDivision of labour Foraging RFID Physiology Ant Temnothorax
We thank A.E. Walsby and D. Holland for advice and help with weighing gasters; E. Franklin, R. Archer, Z. Demery, J. Green, B. Johnson, R. Matsuura, J. Roy, P. Sleeman, M.J.H. Steiner, M. Sullivan, J. Wood and A. Whitehead for experimental assistance; S. Perez-Espona, E.A. Langridge and N. Stroeymeyt for useful discussions. NRF & EJHR acknowledge EPSRC grant EP/D076226/1; ABS-F and TOR acknowledge EPSRC grant EP/E061796/1. The experiments described comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.
- Cooper WE (1998) Risk factors and emergence from refuge in the lizard Eumeces laticeps. Behaviour 135:1065–1076Google Scholar
- Franks NR, Bryant S (1987) Rhythmical patterns of activity within the nests of ants. In: Eder J, Rembold H (eds) Chemistry and biology of social insects. J. Peperny, Munich, pp 122–123Google Scholar
- Hölldobler B, Wilson EO (1990) The ants. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
- Oster GF, Wilson EO (1978) Caste and ecology in the social insects. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
- Pallet MJ, Plowright RC (1979) Traffic through the nest entrance of a colony of Vespula arenaria (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Can Entomol 111:385–390Google Scholar
- Venables WN, Ripley BD (2002) Modern applied statistics with S, 4th edn. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Verhaeghe JC, Deneubourg JL (1983) Experimental study and modelling of food recruitment in the ant Tetramorium impurum (Hym. Form.). Insectes Soc 303:47–360Google Scholar
- Wilson EO (1971) The insect societies. Belknap, Harvard, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar