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Social discrimination tuning in ants: template formation and chemical similarity

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Abstract

To investigate the role of template plasticity in shaping nest-mate recognition processes in ants, we constructed experimental mixed-species groups of Manica rubida with either Myrmica rubra, Tetramorium bicarinatum or Formica selysi. Selecting Ma. rubida as the focal species, we observed the behaviour within mixed-species groups and the transfer rates of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHC) onto the focal ants, and we also tested the aggression of the focal species reared either alone or in association with each of the three different species. We show that Ma. rubida workers were always amicable towards their mixed group members, as towards members of the respective parental colonies, irrespective of the associated species. They did, however, express different levels of aggression towards single-species groups of the other species tested, depending on the species with which they were reared. The study suggests that similarity in CHC profiles in two species leads to a narrow template in mixed groups, while dissimilarity is followed by lower levels of aggression (a broader template), at least against species with similar CHC compound compositions (i.e. both a broader template in the focal ants and familiarity with the compound groups of the tested individuals operate together). This refutes the hypothesis that ants reared in mixed-species groups are systematically more tolerant. It also demonstrates that heterospecific information is not treated equally during development. We suggest that post-imaginal learning, template reforming and decision making are more precisely tuned when the two species' chemical complexes are similar.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to thank Thibaud Monnin and Alain Lenoir for providing the ants used in this study. We thank three anonymous referees for constructive comments on this manuscript. We thank Raymond Jegat for technical help and Naomi Paz for editorial assistance.

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Correspondence to Christine Errard.

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Communicated by J. Heinze

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Errard, C., Hefetz, A. & Jaisson, P. Social discrimination tuning in ants: template formation and chemical similarity. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 59, 353–363 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-005-0058-z

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