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Metabolic and behavioral integration in social insect colonies

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In social insect colonies, as with individual animals, the rates of biological processes scale with body size. The remarkable explanatory power of metabolic allometry in ecology and evolutionary biology derives

In social insect colonies, as with individual animals, the rates of biological processes scale with body size. The remarkable explanatory power of metabolic allometry in ecology and evolutionary biology derives from the great diversity of life exhibiting a nonlinear scaling pattern in which metabolic rates are not proportional to mass, but rather exhibit a hypometric relationship with body size. While one theory suggests that the supply of energy is a major physiological constraint, an alternative theory is that the demand for energy is regulated by behavior. The central hypothesis of this dissertation research is that increases in colony size reduce the proportion of individuals actively engaged in colony labor with consequences for energetic scaling at the whole-colony level of biological organization. A combination of methods from comparative physiology and animal behavior were developed to investigate scaling relationships in laboratory-reared colonies of the seed-harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex californicus. To determine metabolic rates, flow-through respirometry made it possible to directly measure the carbon dioxide production and oxygen consumption of whole colonies. By recording video of colony behavior, for which ants were individually paint-marked for identification, it was possible to reconstruct the communication networks through which information is transmitted throughout the colony. Whole colonies of P. californicus were found to exhibit a robust hypometric allometry in which mass-specific metabolic rates decrease with increasing colony size. The distribution of walking speeds also scaled with colony size so that larger colonies were composed of relatively more inactive ants than smaller colonies. If colonies were broken into random collections of workers, metabolic rates scaled isometrically, but when entire colonies were reduced in size while retaining functionality (queens, juveniles, workers), they continued to exhibit a metabolic hypometry. The communication networks in P. californicus colonies contain a high frequency of feed-forward interaction patterns consistent with those of complex regulatory systems. Furthermore, the scaling of these communication pathways with size is a plausible mechanism for the regulation of whole-colony metabolic scaling. The continued development of a network theory approach to integrating behavior and metabolism will reveal insights into the evolution of collective animal behavior, ecological dynamics, and social cohesion.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Matters of Size: Behavioral, Morphological, and Physiological Performance Scaling Among Stingless Bees (Meliponini)

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Body size plays a pervasive role in determining physiological and behavioral performance across animals. It is generally thought that smaller animals are limited in performance measures compared to larger animals;

Body size plays a pervasive role in determining physiological and behavioral performance across animals. It is generally thought that smaller animals are limited in performance measures compared to larger animals; yet, the vast majority of animals on earth are small and evolutionary trends like miniaturization occur in every animal clade. Therefore, there must be some evolutionary advantages to being small and/or compensatory mechanisms that allow small animals to compete with larger species. In this dissertation I specifically explore the scaling of flight performance (flight metabolic rate, wing beat frequency, load-carrying capacity) and learning behaviors (visual differentiation visual Y-maze learning) across stingless bee species that vary by three orders of magnitude in body size. I also test whether eye morphology and calculated visual acuity match visual differentiation and learning abilities using honeybees and stingless bees. In order to determine what morphological and physiological factors contribute to scaling of these performance parameters I measure the scaling of head, thorax, and abdomen mass, wing size, brain size, and eye size. I find that small stingless bee species are not limited in visual learning compared to larger species, and even have some energetic advantages in flight. These insights are essential to understanding how small size evolved repeatedly in all animal clades and why it persists. Finally, I test flight performance across stingless bee species while varying temperature in accordance with thermal changes that are predicted with climate change. I find that thermal performance curves varied greatly among species, that smaller species conform closely to air temperature, and that larger bees may be better equipped to cope with rising temperatures due to more frequent exposure to high temperatures. This information may help us predict whether small or large species might fare better in future thermal climate conditions, and which body-size related traits might be expected to evolve.

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Date Created
  • 2018