Collective Decision-making and Foraging in a Community of Desert Ants
AuthorLanan, Michele Caroline
AdvisorBronstein, Judith L.
Committee ChairBronstein, Judith L.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractAnt colonies are often considered to be a superorganism, exhibiting complex collective behaviors, reproducing at the colony level, and dividing functional roles among groups of workers. For this reason, it is often appropriate to study ant behavior at the colony, rather than the individual, level. In this study, I investigated decision-making and foraging behavior in colonies of several species belonging to the ant community of Sonoran Desert scrub habitat. First, I used laboratory experiments to examine how the spatial structure of Crematogaster torosa colonies changes in response to the availability of temporally stable food sources. I found that in this polydomous species the formation of nests is associated with foraging, but that colonies will build broodless structures called “oustations” regardless of food presence. Next, I examined colony spatial structure of a related polydomous species, Crematogaster opuntiae, in the field. I found that colonies used large foraging territories up to three hectares in size, containing up to twenty nest entrances interconnected by a network of trails. Nest location appeared to be related to foraging, with nests located close to extrafloral nectar-secreting cacti (Ferocactus wislizeni) and a negative relationship between cactus density and territory size. Within colonies, forager behavior on neighboring cacti was not independent at short distances, suggesting that separate plants in this system cannot be treated as independent replicates. In the third chapter, I used an individual-based simulation model to investigate the effects of individual worker behavior on the ability of pheromone-recruiting ant colonies to maintain trails to multiple food sources simultaneously. Interestingly, small changes in the behavior rules used by individuals led to large-scale changes in emergent behaviors at the colony level. Lastly, I used field experiments to relate the ability of colonies of three ant species to maintain multiple trails to their ranking in the community competitive dominance hierarchy. I found that the most dominant species tended to forage asymmetrically, whereas the least dominant species exhibited more symmetrical patterns of foraging. The ability of ant colonies to collectively maintain multiple trails may therefore be an adaptive trait linked to the foraging ecology of species.
Degree ProgramInsect Science