Waste Management in the Leaf-Cutting Ant Acromyrmex lobicornis: Division of Labour, Aggressive Behaviour, and Location of External Refuse Dumps
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In leaf-cutting ants, the handling of waste materials from the fungus culture increases the risk of infection. Consequently, ants should manage their waste in a way that minimizes the spread of diseases. We investigated whether in Acromyrmex lobicornis, waste-worker ants (a) also perform roles in foraging or mound maintenance, (b) are morphologically different than other ant workers, and (c) are aggressively discriminated by other worker ants from the same colony. In addition, we investigated whether the location of external waste piles minimizes the probability that wastes spread to the ant nest. In the field, we (a) marked with different colours waste-workers, foragers and mound-workers and monitored whether these ants interchanged their tasks; (b) measured head width, head length, hind femur length and total length of waste-workers; foragers and mound-workers; (c) forced field encounters between waste-workers and foragers, and (d) measured the cardinal orientation of the waste piles in relation to the colony mound. Waste-worker ants did not perform other function outside the nest; neither foragers nor mound-workers managed the waste. Moreover, waste-workers were smaller than foragers and mound-workers, and were attacked if they tried to enter their nest using foraging entrances. The location of external refuse dumps also appears to reduce contamination risks. Waste piles always were down-slope, and often followed the prevailing wind direction. The importance of behaviours such as the division of labour, aggressions against waste-workers and nest compartmentalization (i.e., the orientation of external waste piles) to minimize the spread of pathogens is discussed.
KEY WORDSant debris division of labour hygienic behaviour refuse dump
We thank W. Wcislo and two anonymous referees for their helpful comments. CONICET (Argentina) partially supported this study.
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