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The Explutrientoration of Macronutrient Regulation in the Desert Leafcutter

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Nutritional balance is a requirement for the survival of all species. This balance is important for complex eusocial organisms as it influences the growth and development of the colony. Leafcutter

Nutritional balance is a requirement for the survival of all species. This balance is important for complex eusocial organisms as it influences the growth and development of the colony. Leafcutter ants function as tri-trophic systems, harvesting mixed vegetation to cultivate a fungus garden that in return supplies the colony with food. Examining how the colony deals with nutrient balance is of particular interest because this species forages to provide nutrients for the fungus. There seems to be a feedback system between the fungus and the workers that influences how much of a particular macronutrient should be collected. The objective of this thesis study was to examine the foraging behavior of the desert leaf cutter ant, Acromyrmex versicolor. This study asked how nutrition, in particular the ratio of carbohydrates to proteins, influences the foraging behavior of the colony. It was hypothesized that given a choice of high protein and high carbohydrate diets the leafcutters would forage towards a balance ratio. The results from this experiment showed that A. versicolor forage towards a target ratio of protein to carbohydrate to based diets. This p:c ratio was calculated to be 1:6.2; 1 gram of protein to 6.2 grams of carbohydrate. When colonies were restricted to the high carbohydrate diet, they increased food consumption, consistent with the expectation that they would forage to reach their protein nutrient requirement, however, they reduced foraging on that diet. This suggests that ants avoid overconsuming protein, even when doing so provided more optimal carbohydrate intake. From this study I concluded that nutritional balance is a foraging goal for ant societies, similar to organisms. These results also open the question of how nutrient regulation by leafcutter ants is regulated around their mutualist relationship with another organism, the fungus.

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  • 2015-12

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Understanding the emerging behaviors and demands for the colony success of social insects: a mathematical approach

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The most advanced social insects, the eusocial insects, form often large societies in which there is reproductive division of labor, queens and workers, have overlapping generations, and cooperative brood care

The most advanced social insects, the eusocial insects, form often large societies in which there is reproductive division of labor, queens and workers, have overlapping generations, and cooperative brood care where daughter workers remain in the nest with their queen mother and care for their siblings. The eusocial insects are composed of representative species of bees and wasps, and all species of ants and termites. Much is known about their organizational structure, but remains to be discovered.

The success of social insects is dependent upon cooperative behavior and adaptive strategies shaped by natural selection that respond to internal or external conditions. The objective of my research was to investigate specific mechanisms that have helped shaped the structure of division of labor observed in social insect colonies, including age polyethism and nutrition, and phenomena known to increase colony survival such as egg cannibalism. I developed various Ordinary Differential Equation (ODE) models in which I applied dynamical, bifurcation, and sensitivity analysis to carefully study and visualize biological outcomes in social organisms to answer questions regarding the conditions under which a colony can survive. First, I investigated how the population and evolutionary dynamics of egg cannibalism and division of labor can promote colony survival. I then introduced a model of social conflict behavior to study the inclusion of different response functions that explore the benefits of cannibalistic behavior and how it contributes to age polyethism, the change in behavior of workers as they age, and its biological relevance. Finally, I introduced a model to investigate the importance of pollen nutritional status in a honeybee colony, how it affects population growth and influences division of labor within the worker caste. My results first reveal that both cannibalism and division of labor are adaptive strategies that increase the size of the worker population, and therefore, the persistence of the colony. I show the importance of food collection, consumption, and processing rates to promote good colony nutrition leading to the coexistence of brood and adult workers. Lastly, I show how taking into account seasonality for pollen collection improves the prediction of long term consequences.

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Date Created
  • 2018