Matching Items (5)

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A recruit's dilemma: collective decision-making and information content in the ant Temnothorax rugatulus

Description

An insect society needs to share information about important resources in order to collectively exploit them. This task poses a dilemma if the colony must consider multiple resource types, such

An insect society needs to share information about important resources in order to collectively exploit them. This task poses a dilemma if the colony must consider multiple resource types, such as food and nest sites. How does it allocate workers appropriately to each resource, and how does it adapt its recruitment communication to the specific needs of each resource type? In this dissertation, I investigate these questions in the ant Temnothorax rugatulus.

In Chapter 1, I summarize relevant past work on food and nest recruitment. Then I describe T. rugatulus and its recruitment behavior, tandem running, and I explain its suitability for these questions. In Chapter 2, I investigate whether food and nest recruiters behave differently. I report two novel behaviors used by recruiters during their interaction with nestmates. Food recruiters perform these behaviors more often than nest recruiters, suggesting that they convey information about target type. In Chapter 3, I investigate whether colonies respond to a tradeoff between foraging and emigration by allocating their workforce adaptively. I describe how colonies responded when I posed a tradeoff by manipulating colony need for food and shelter and presenting both resources simultaneously. Recruitment and visitation to each target partially matched the predictions of the tradeoff hypothesis. In Chapter 4, I address the tuned error hypothesis, which states that the error rate in recruitment is adaptively tuned to the patch area of the target. Food tandem leaders lost followers at a higher rate than nest tandem leaders. This supports the tuned error hypothesis, because food targets generally have larger patch areas than nest targets with small entrances.

This work shows that animal groups face tradeoffs as individual animals do. It also suggests that colonies spatially allocate their workforce according to resource type. Investigating recruitment for multiple resource types gives a better understanding of exploitation of each resource type, how colonies make collective decisions under conflicting goals, as well as how colonies manage the exploitation of multiple types of resources differently. This has implications for managing the health of economically important social insects such as honeybees or invasive fire ants.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2019

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The regulation of worker reproduction in the ant Aphaenogaster cockerelli

Description

The repression of reproductive competition and the enforcement of altruism are key components to the success of animal societies. Eusocial insects are defined by having a reproductive division of labor,

The repression of reproductive competition and the enforcement of altruism are key components to the success of animal societies. Eusocial insects are defined by having a reproductive division of labor, in which reproduction is relegated to one or few individuals while the rest of the group members maintain the colony and help raise offspring. However, workers have retained the ability to reproduce in most insect societies. In the social Hymenoptera, due to haplodiploidy, workers can lay unfertilized male destined eggs without mating. Potential conflict between workers and queens can arise over male production, and policing behaviors performed by nestmate workers and queens are a means of repressing worker reproduction. This work describes the means and results of the regulation of worker reproduction in the ant species Aphaenogaster cockerelli. Through manipulative laboratory studies on mature colonies, the lack of egg policing and the presence of physical policing by both workers and queens of this species are described. Through chemical analysis and artificial chemical treatments, the role of cuticular hydrocarbons as indicators of fertility status and the informational basis of policing in this species is demonstrated. An additional queen-specific chemical signal in the Dufour's gland is discovered to be used to direct nestmate aggression towards reproductive competitors. Finally, the level of actual worker-derived males in field colonies is measured. Together, these studies demonstrate the effectiveness of policing behaviors on the suppression of worker reproduction in a social insect species, and provide an example of how punishment and the threat of punishment is a powerful force in maintaining cooperative societies.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2011

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The wisdom of the acorn: social foraging in Temnothorax ants

Description

The coordination of group behavior in the social insects is representative of a broader phenomenon in nature, emergent biological complexity. In such systems, it is believed that large-scale patterns result

The coordination of group behavior in the social insects is representative of a broader phenomenon in nature, emergent biological complexity. In such systems, it is believed that large-scale patterns result from the interaction of relatively simple subunits. This dissertation involved the study of one such system: the social foraging of the ant Temnothorax rugatulus. Physically tiny with small population sizes, these cavity-dwelling ants provide a good model system to explore the mechanisms and ultimate origins of collective behavior in insect societies. My studies showed that colonies robustly exploit sugar water. Given a choice between feeders unequal in quality, colonies allocate more foragers to the better feeder. If the feeders change in quality, colonies are able to reallocate their foragers to the new location of the better feeder. These qualities of flexibility and allocation could be explained by the nature of positive feedback (tandem run recruitment) that these ants use. By observing foraging colonies with paint-marked ants, I was able to determine the `rules' that individuals follow: foragers recruit more and give up less when they find a better food source. By altering the nutritional condition of colonies, I found that these rules are flexible - attuned to the colony state. In starved colonies, individual ants are more likely to explore and recruit to food sources than in well-fed colonies. Similar to honeybees, Temmnothorax foragers appear to modulate their exploitation and recruitment behavior in response to environmental and social cues. Finally, I explored the influence of ecology (resource distribution) on the foraging success of colonies. Larger colonies showed increased consistency and a greater rate of harvest than smaller colonies, but this advantage was mediated by the distribution of resources. While patchy or rare food sources exaggerated the relative success of large colonies, regularly (or easily found) distributions leveled the playing field for smaller colonies. Social foraging in ant societies can best be understood when we view the colony as a single organism and the phenotype - group size, communication, and individual behavior - as integrated components of a homeostatic unit.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2014

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Proximate and ultimate mechanisms of nestmate recognition in ants

Description

The most abundantly studied societies, with the exception of humans, are those of the eusocial insects, which include all ants. Eusocial insect societies are typically composed of many dozens to

The most abundantly studied societies, with the exception of humans, are those of the eusocial insects, which include all ants. Eusocial insect societies are typically composed of many dozens to millions of individuals, referred to as nestmates, which require some form of communication to maintain colony cohesion and coordinate the activities within them. Nestmate recognition is the process of distinguishing between nestmates and non-nestmates, and embodies the first line of defense for social insect colonies. In ants, nestmate recognition is widely thought to occur through olfactory cues found on the exterior surfaces of individuals. These cues, called cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs), comprise the overwhelming majority of ant nestmate profiles and help maintain colony identity. In this dissertation, I investigate how nestmate recognition is influenced by evolutionary, ontogenetic, and environmental factors. First, I contributed to the sequencing and description of three ant genomes including the red harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus, presented in detail here. Next, I studied how variation in nestmate cues may be shaped through evolution by comparatively studying a family of genes involved in fatty acid and hydrocarbon biosynthesis, i.e., the acyl-CoA desaturases, across seven ant species in comparison with other social and solitary insects. Then, I tested how genetic, developmental, and social factors influence CHC profile variation in P. barbatus, through a three-part study. (1) I conducted a descriptive, correlative study of desaturase gene expression and CHC variation in P. barbatus workers and queens; (2) I explored how larger-scale genetic variation in the P. barbatus species complex influences CHC variation across two genetically isolated lineages (J1/J2 genetic caste determining lineages); and (3) I experimentally examined how CHC development is influenced by an individual’s social environment. In the final part of my work, I resolved discrepancies between previous findings of nestmate recognition behavior in P. barbatus by studying how factors of territorial experience, i.e., spatiotemporal relationships, affect aggressive behaviors among red harvester ant colonies. Through this research, I was able to identify promising methodological approaches and candidate genes, which both broadens our understanding of P. barbatus nestmate recognition systems and supports future functional genetic studies of CHCs in ants.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2016

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Psychology of a superorganism

Description

For over a century, researchers have been investigating collective cognition, in which a group of individuals together process information and act as a single cognitive unit. However, I still know

For over a century, researchers have been investigating collective cognition, in which a group of individuals together process information and act as a single cognitive unit. However, I still know little about circumstances under which groups achieve better (or worse) decisions than individuals. My dissertation research directly addressed this longstanding question, using the house-hunting ant Temnothorax rugatulus as a model system. Here I applied concepts and methods developed in psychology not only to individuals but also to colonies in order to investigate differences of their cognitive abilities. This approach is inspired by the superorganism concept, which sees a tightly integrated insect society as the analog of a single organism. I combined experimental manipulations and models to elucidate the emergent processes of collective cognition. My studies show that groups can achieve superior cognition by sharing the burden of option assessment among members and by integrating information from members using positive feedback. However, the same positive feedback can lock the group into a suboptimal choice in certain circumstances. Although ants are obligately social, my results show that they can be isolated and individually tested on cognitive tasks. In the future, this novel approach will help the field of animal behavior move towards better understanding of collective cognition.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2013