Matching Items (6)

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A novel approach to study task organization in animal groups

Description

A key factor in the success of social animals is their organization of work. Mathematical models have been instrumental in unraveling how simple, individual-based rules can generate collective patterns via

A key factor in the success of social animals is their organization of work. Mathematical models have been instrumental in unraveling how simple, individual-based rules can generate collective patterns via self-organization. However, existing models offer limited insights into how these patterns are shaped by behavioral differences within groups, in part because they focus on analyzing specific rules rather than general mechanisms that can explain behavior at the individual-level. My work argues for a more principled approach that focuses on the question of how individuals make decisions in costly environments.

In Chapters 2 and 3, I demonstrate how this approach provides novel insights into factors that shape the flexibility and robustness of task organization in harvester ant colonies (Pogonomyrmex barbatus). My results show that the degree to which colonies can respond to work in fluctuating environments depends on how individuals weigh the costs of activity and update their behavior in response to social information. In Chapter 4, I introduce a mathematical framework to study the emergence of collective organization in heterogenous groups. My approach, which is based on the theory of multi-agent systems, focuses on myopic agents whose behavior emerges out of an independent valuation of alternative choices in a given work environment. The product of this dynamic is an equilibrium organization in which agents perform different tasks (or abstain from work) with an analytically defined set of threshold probabilities. The framework is minimally developed, but can be extended to include other factors known to affect task decisions including individual experience and social facilitation. This research contributes a novel approach to developing (and analyzing) models of task organization that can be applied in a broader range of contexts where animals cooperate.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2016

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Collective personality in the Azteca-Cecropia mutualism

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For interspecific mutualisms, the behavior of one partner can influence the fitness of the other, especially in the case of symbiotic mutualisms where partners live in close physical association for

For interspecific mutualisms, the behavior of one partner can influence the fitness of the other, especially in the case of symbiotic mutualisms where partners live in close physical association for much of their lives. Behavioral effects on fitness may be particularly important if either species in these long-term relationships displays personality. Animal personality is defined as repeatable individual differences in behavior, and how correlations among these consistent traits are structured is termed behavioral syndromes. Animal personality has been broadly documented across the animal kingdom but is poorly understood in the context of mutualisms. My dissertation focuses on the structure, causes, and consequences of collective personality in Azteca constructor colonies that live in Cecropia trees, one of the most successful and prominent mutualisms of the neotropics. These pioneer plants provide hollow internodes for nesting and nutrient-rich food bodies; in return, the ants provide protection from herbivores and encroaching vines. I first explored the structure of the behavioral syndrome by testing the consistency and correlation of colony-level behavioral traits under natural conditions in the field. Traits were both consistent within colonies and correlated among colonies revealing a behavioral syndrome along a docile-aggressive axis. Host plants of more active, aggressive colonies had less leaf damage, suggesting a link between a colony personality and host plant health. I then studied how aspects of colony sociometry are intertwined with their host plants by assessing the relationship among plant growth, colony growth, colony structure, ant morphology, and colony personality. Colony personality was independent of host plant measures like tree size, age, volume. Finally, I tested how colony personality influenced by soil nutrients by assessing personality in the field and transferring colonies to plants the greenhouse under different soil nutrient treatments. Personality was correlated with soil nutrients in the field but was not influenced by soil nutrient treatment in the greenhouse. This suggests that soil nutrients interact with other factors in the environment to structure personality. This dissertation demonstrates that colony personality is an ecologically relevant phenomenon and an important consideration for mutualism dynamics.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2018

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Ecological drivers and reproductive consequences of queen cooperation in the California harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus

Description

An important component of insect social structure is the number of queens that cohabitate in a colony. Queen number is highly variable between and within species. It can begin at

An important component of insect social structure is the number of queens that cohabitate in a colony. Queen number is highly variable between and within species. It can begin at colony initiation when often unrelated queens form cooperative social groups, a strategy known as primary polygyny. The non-kin cooperative groups formed by primary polygyny have profound effects on the social dynamics and inclusive fitness benefits within a colony. Despite this, the evolution of non-kin queen cooperation has been relatively overlooked in considerations of the evolution of cooperative sociality. To date, studies examining the costs and benefits of primary polygyny have focused primarily on the advantages of multiple queens during colony founding and early growth, but the impact of their presence extends to colony maturity and reproduction.

In this dissertation, I evaluate the ecological drivers and fitness consequences of non-kin queen cooperation, by comparing the reproduction of mature single-queen versus polygynous harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex californicus) colonies in the field. I captured and quantified the total number and biomass of reproductives across multiple mating seasons, comparing between populations that vary in the proportion of single queen versus polygynous colonies, to assess the fitness outcomes of queen cooperation. Colonies in a mainly polygynous site had lower reproductive investment than those in sites with predominantly single-queen colonies. The site dominated by polygyny had higher colony density and displayed evidence of resource limitation, pressures that may drive the evolution of queen cooperation.

I also used microsatellite markers to examine how polygynous queens share worker and reproductive production with nest-mate queens. The majority of queens fairly contribute to worker production and equally share reproductive output. However, there is a low frequency of queens that under-produce workers and over-produce reproductive offspring. This suggests that cheating by reproducing queens is possible, but uncommon. Competitive pressure from neighboring colonies could reduce the success of colonies that contain cheaters and maintain a low frequency of this phenotype in the population.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2017

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Causes and consequences of queen-number variation in the California harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus

Description

Social insect colonies exhibit striking diversity in social organization. Included in this overwhelming variation in structure are differences in colony queen number. The number of queens per colony varies both

Social insect colonies exhibit striking diversity in social organization. Included in this overwhelming variation in structure are differences in colony queen number. The number of queens per colony varies both intra- and interspecifically and has major impacts on the social dynamics of a colony and the fitness of its members. To understand the evolutionary transition from single to multi-queen colonies, I examined a species which exhibits variation both in mode of colony founding and in the queen number of mature colonies. The California harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus exhibits both variation in the number of queens that begin a colony (metrosis) and in the number of queens in adult colonies (gyny). Throughout most of its range, colonies begin with one queen (haplometrosis) but in some populations multiple queens cooperate to initiate colonies (pleometrosis). I present results that confirm co-foundresses are unrelated. I also map the geographic occurrence of pleometrotic populations and show that the phenomenon appears to be localized in southern California and Northern Baja California. Additionally, I provide genetic evidence that pleometrosis leads to primary polygyny (polygyny developing from pleometrosis) a phenomenon which has received little attention and is poorly understood. Phylogenetic and haplotype analyses utilizing mitochondrial markers reveal that populations of both behavioral types in California are closely related and have low mitochondrial diversity. Nuclear markers however, indicate strong barriers to gene flow between focal populations. I also show that intrinsic differences in queen behavior lead to the two types of populations observed. Even though populations exhibit strong tendencies on average toward haplo- or pleometrosis, within population variation exists among queens for behaviors relevant to metrosis and gyny. These results are important in understanding the dynamics and evolutionary history of a distinct form of cooperation among unrelated social insects. They also help to understand the dynamics of intraspecific variation and the conflicting forces of local adaptation and gene flow.

Contributors

Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2011

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Behavioral and nutritional regulation of colony growth in the desert leafcutter ant Acromyrmex versicolor

Description

Like individual organisms, complex social groups are able to maintain predictable trajectories of growth, from initial colony foundation to mature reproductively capable units. They do so while simultaneously responding flexibly

Like individual organisms, complex social groups are able to maintain predictable trajectories of growth, from initial colony foundation to mature reproductively capable units. They do so while simultaneously responding flexibly to variation in nutrient availability and intake. Leafcutter ant colonies function as tri-trophic systems, in which the ants harvest vegetation to grow a fungus that, in turn, serves as food for the colony. Fungal growth rates and colony worker production are interdependent, regulated by nutritional and behavioral feedbacks. Fungal growth and quality are directly affected by worker foraging decisions, while worker production is, in turn, dependent on the amount and condition of the fungus. In this dissertation, I first characterized the growth relationship between the workers and the fungus of the desert leafcutter ant Acromyrmex versicolor during early stages of colony development, from colony foundation by groups of queens through the beginnings of exponential growth. I found that this relationship undergoes a period of slow growth and instability when workers first emerge, and then becomes allometrically positive. I then evaluated how mass and element ratios of resources collected by the ants are translated into fungus and worker population growth, and refuse, finding that colony digestive efficiency is comparable to digestive efficiencies of other herbivorous insects and ruminants. To test how colonies behaviorally respond to perturbations of the fungus garden, I quantified activity levels and task performance of workers in colonies with either supplemented or diminished fungus gardens, and found that colonies adjusted activity and task allocation in response to the fungus garden size. Finally, to identify possible forms of nutrient limitation, I measured how colony performance was affected by changes in the relative amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and phosphorus available in the resources used to grow the fungus garden. From this experiment, I concluded that colony growth is primarily carbohydrate-limited.

Contributors

Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2011

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The emergence and scaling of division of labor in insect societies

Description

Division of labor, whereby different group members perform different functions, is a fundamental attribute of sociality. It appears across social systems, from simple cooperative groups to complex eusocial colonies. A

Division of labor, whereby different group members perform different functions, is a fundamental attribute of sociality. It appears across social systems, from simple cooperative groups to complex eusocial colonies. A core challenge in sociobiology is to explain how patterns of collective organization are generated. Theoretical models propose that division of labor self-organizes, or emerges, from interactions among group members and the environment; division of labor is also predicted to scale positively with group size. I empirically investigated the emergence and scaling of division of labor in evolutionarily incipient groups of sweat bees and in eusocial colonies of harvester ants. To test whether division of labor is an emergent property of group living during early social evolution, I created de novo communal groups of the normally solitary sweat bee Lasioglossum (Ctenonomia) NDA-1. A division of labor repeatedly arose between nest excavation and guarding tasks; results were consistent with hypothesized effects of spatial organization and intrinsic behavioral variability. Moreover, an experimental increase in group size spontaneously promoted higher task specialization and division of labor. Next, I examined the influence of colony size on division of labor in larger, more integrated colonies of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus. Division of labor scaled positively with colony size in two contexts: during early colony ontogeny, as colonies grew from tens to hundreds of workers, and among same-aged colonies that varied naturally in size. However, manipulation of colony size did not elicit a short-term response, suggesting that the scaling of division of labor in P. californicus colonies is a product of functional integration and underlying developmental processes, rather than a purely emergent epiphenomenon. This research provides novel insights into the organization of work in insect societies, and raises broader questions about the role of size in sociobiology.

Contributors

Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2011