Foragers of many ant species use pheromone trails to guide nestmates to food sources. During foraging, individual workers can also learn the route to a food source. Foragers of the mass-recruiting ant Lasius niger use both pheromone trails and memory to locate a food source. As a result, an experienced forager can have a conflict between social information (trail pheromones) and private information (route memory) at trail bifurcations. We tested decision making in L. niger foragers facing such an informational conflict in situations where both the strength of the pheromone trail and the number of previous visits to the food source varied. Foragers quickly learned the branch at a T bifurcation that leads to a food source, with 74.6% choosing correctly after one previous visit and 95.3% after three visits. Pheromone trails had a weaker effect on choice behaviour of naïve ants, with only 61.6% and 70.2% choosing the branch that had been marked by one or 20 foragers versus an unmarked branch. When there was a conflict between private and social information, memory overrides pheromone after just one previous visit to a food source. Most ants, 82–100%, chose the branch where they had collected food during previous foraging trips, with the proportion depending on the number of previous trips (1 v. 3) but not on the strength of the pheromone trail (1 v. 20). In addition, the presence of a pheromone trail at one branch in a bifurcation had no effect on the time it took an experienced ant to choose the correct branch (the branch without pheromone). These results suggest that private information (navigational memory) dominates over social information (chemical tail) in orientation decisions during foraging activities in experienced L. niger foragers.
Lasius nigerForaging Pheromone trails Route memory Decision making
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We thank Thomas Durance and Lucy Taylor for help with data collection. C.G. was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF grant PBBEP3-123648). T.C. was supported by a PhD studentship from the BBSRC.
The experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.
Conflicts of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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