Matching Items (7)

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Mechanistic Diversity in Long-Range Regulation of Worker Reproduction in Polydomous Ant Species

Description

Ant colonies provide numerous opportunities to study communication systems that maintain the cohesion of eusocial groups. In many ant species, workers have retained their ovaries and the ability to produce

Ant colonies provide numerous opportunities to study communication systems that maintain the cohesion of eusocial groups. In many ant species, workers have retained their ovaries and the ability to produce male offspring; however, they generally refrain from producing their own sons when a fertile queen is present in the colony. Although mechanisms that facilitate the communication of the presence of a fertile queen to all members of the colony have been highly studied, those studies have often overlooked the added challenge faced by polydomous species, which divide their nests across as many as one hundred satellite nests resulting in workers potentially having infrequent contact with the queen. In these polydomous contexts, regulatory phenotypes must extend beyond the immediate spatial influence of the queen.

This work investigates mechanisms that can extend the spatial reach of fertility signaling and reproductive regulation in three polydomous ant species. In Novomessor cockerelli, the presence of larvae but not eggs is shown to inhibit worker reproduction. Then, in Camponotus floridanus, 3-methylheptacosane found on the queen cuticle and queen-laid eggs is verified as a releaser pheromone sufficient to disrupt normally occurring aggressive behavior toward foreign workers. Finally, the volatile and cuticular hydrocarbon pheromones present on the cuticle of Oecophylla smaragdina queens are shown to release strong attraction response by workers; when coupled with previous work, this result suggests that these chemicals may underly both the formation of a worker retinue around the queen as well as egg-located mechanisms of reproductive regulation in distant satellite nests. Whereas most previous studies have focused on the short-range role of hydrocarbons on the cuticle of the queen, these studies demonstrate that eusocial insects may employ longer range regulatory mechanisms. Both queen volatiles and distributed brood can extend the range of queen fertility signaling, and the use of larvae for fertility signaling suggest that feeding itself may be a non-chemical mechanism for reproductive regulation. Although trail laying in mass-recruiting ants is often used as an example of complex communication, reproductive regulation in ants may be a similarly complex example of insect communication, especially in the case of large, polydomous ant colonies.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2020

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Regulation of reproductive plasticity in the ant Harpegnathos saltator

Description

At the heart of every eusocial insect colony is a reproductive division of labor. This division can emerge through dominance interactions at the adult stage or through the production of

At the heart of every eusocial insect colony is a reproductive division of labor. This division can emerge through dominance interactions at the adult stage or through the production of distinct queen and worker castes at the larval stage. In both cases, this division depends on plasticity within an individual to develop reproductive characteristics or serve as a worker. In order to gain insight into the evolution of reproductive plasticity in the social insects, I investigated caste determination and dominance in the ant Harpegnathos saltator, a species that retains a number of ancestral characteristics. Treatment of worker larvae with a juvenile hormone (JH) analog induced late-instar larvae to develop as queens. At the colony level, workers must have a mechanism to regulate larval development to prevent queens from developing out of season. I identified a new behavior in H. saltator where workers bite larvae to inhibit queen determination. Workers could identify larval caste based on a chemical signal specific to queen-destined larvae, and the production of this signal was directly linked to increased JH levels. This association provides a connection between the physiological factors that induce queen development and the production of a caste-specific larval signal. In addition to caste determination at the larval stage, adult workers of H. saltator compete to establish a reproductive hierarchy. Unlike other social insects, dominance in H. saltator was not related to differences in JH or ecdysteroid levels. Instead, changes in brain levels of biogenic amines, particularly dopamine, were correlated with dominance and reproductive status. Receptor genes for dopamine were expressed in both the brain and ovaries of H. saltator, and this suggests that dopamine may coordinate changes in behavior at the neurological level with ovarian status. Together, these studies build on our understanding of reproductive plasticity in social insects and provide insight into the evolution of a reproductive division of labor.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2012

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Coordinating Individual Behavior in Collective Processes; Seed Choice in Harvester Ants (Pogonomyrmex californicus)

Description

Social animals benefit from the aggregation of knowledge and cognitive processing power. Part of this benefit comes from individual heterogeneity, which provides the basis to group-level strategies, such as division

Social animals benefit from the aggregation of knowledge and cognitive processing power. Part of this benefit comes from individual heterogeneity, which provides the basis to group-level strategies, such as division of labor and collective intelligence. In turn, the outcomes of collective choices, as well as the needs of the society at large, influence the behavior of individuals within it. My dissertation research addresses how the feedback between individual and group-level behavior affects individuals and promotes collective change. I study this question in the context of seed selection in the seed harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex californicus. I use both field and laboratory studies to explore questions relating to individual behavior: how forager decision-making is affected through information available in the nest and at the seed pile; how workers interact with seeds in the nest; and how forager preferences diverge from each other’s and the colony’s preference. I also explore the integration between individual and colony behavior, specifically: how interactions between the foraging and processing tasks affect colony collection behavior; how individual behavior changes affect colony preference changes and whether colony preference changes can be considered learning behavior. To answer these questions, I provided colonies with binary choices between seeds of unequal or similar quality, and measured individual, task group, and colony-level behavior. I found that colonies are capable of learning to discriminate between seeds, and learned information lasts at least one month without seed interaction outside of the nest. I also found that colony learning was coordinated by foragers receiving updated information from seeds in the nest to better discriminate and make choices between seed quality during searches for seeds outside of the nest. My results show that seed processing is essential for stimulating collection of novel seeds, and that foraging and processing are conducted by behaviorally and spatially overlapping but distinct groups of workers. Finally, I found that foragers’ preferences are diverse yet flexible, even when colonies are consistent in their preference at the population level. These combined experiments generate a more detailed and complete understanding of the mechanisms behind the flexibility of collective colony choices, how colonies incorporate new information, and how workers individually and collectively make foraging decisions for the colony in a decentralized manner.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2020

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Decoding brood pheromone: the releaser and primer effects of young and old larvae on honey bee (Apis mellifera) workers

Description

How a colony regulates the division of labor to forage for nutritional resources while accommodating for changes in colony demography is a fundamental question in the sociobiology of social insects.

How a colony regulates the division of labor to forage for nutritional resources while accommodating for changes in colony demography is a fundamental question in the sociobiology of social insects. In honey bee, Apis mellifera, brood composition impacts the division of labor, but it is unknown if colonies adjust the allocation of foragers to carbohydrate and protein resources based on changes in the age demography of larvae and the pheromones they produce. Young and old larvae produce pheromones that differ in composition and volatility. In turn, nurses differentially provision larvae, feeding developing young worker larvae a surplus diet that is more queen-like in protein composition and food availability, while old larvae receive a diet that mimics the sugar composition of the queen larval diet but is restrictively fed instead of provided ad lib. This research investigated how larval age and the larval pheromone e-β ocimene (eβ) impact foraging activity and foraging load. Additional cage studies were conducted to determine if eβ interacts synergistically with queen mandibular pheromone (QMP) to suppress ovary activation and prime worker physiology for nursing behavior. Lastly, the priming effects of larval age and eβ on worker physiology and the transition from in-hive nursing tasks to outside foraging were examined. Results indicate that workers differentially respond to larvae of different ages, likely by detecting changes in the composition of the pheromones they emit. This resulted in adjustments to the foraging division of labor (pollen vs. nectar) to ensure that the nutritional needs of the colony's brood were met. For younger larvae and eβ, this resulted in a bias favoring pollen collection. The cage studies reveal that both eβ and QMP suppressed ovary activation, but the larval pheromone was more effective. Maturing in an environment of young or old larvae primed bees for nursing and impacted important endocrine titers involved in the transition to foraging, so bees maturing in the presence of larvae foraged earlier than control bees reared with no brood.

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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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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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Created

Date Created
  • 2013

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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.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
  • 2011