Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 5, pp 711–720 | Cite as

Better the nest site you know: decision-making during nest migrations by the Pharaoh’s ant

  • Sophie E. F. Evison
  • Katie A. Webster
  • William O. H. Hughes
Original Paper


Animals frequently have to decide between alternative resources and in social insects these individual choices produce a colony-level decision. The choice of nest site is a particularly critical decision for a social insect colony to make, but the decision making process has still only been studied in a few species. In this study, we investigated nest selection by the Pharaoh’s ant, Monomorium pharaonis, a species renowned for its propensity to migrate and its use of multi-component trail pheromones to organise decision-making in other contexts. When presented with the choice of familiar and novel nests of equal quality in a Y set-up, colonies preferentially migrated towards the familiar nest, suggesting a form of colony-level ‘memory’ of potential nest sites. However, if the novel nest was superior to the familiar nest, then colonies began migrating initially to the familiar nest, but then redirected their migration to the superior quality novel nest. This may be an effective method of reducing colony exposure while searching for an optimum nest site. Branches that had previously led to a selected nest were attractive to ants in subsequent migrations, suggesting that trail pheromones mediate the decision making process. The adaptive, pheromone-based organisation of nest-site selection by Pharaoh’s ants matches their ephemeral environment and is likely to contribute to their success as a 'tramp' species.


Latent learning Social insect Pheromone Nest site selection Trail 



We are grateful to Francis Ratnieks for kindly providing the Pharaoh’s ant colonies, to Alan Reynolds and Grace Frecker for assistance with maintaining the colonies, and to Andrew Beckerman, Tom Cameron, Dylan Childs and Mark Rees for statistical advice. We also thank the three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and the Leverhulme Foundation for funding.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sophie E. F. Evison
    • 1
  • Katie A. Webster
    • 1
  • William O. H. Hughes
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology, Faculty of Biological SciencesUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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