Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Evolution shapes new rules for ant behavior, research finds

Date:
May 15, 2013
Source:
Stanford University
Summary:
Biologist Deborah M. Gordon's decades-long study of collective behavior in harvester ant colonies has provided a rare real-time look at natural selection at work.

Harvester ants store seeds inside the nest, so they can afford not to forage when conditions are poor. The photo shows an underground chamber filled with seeds.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Miko Tsukimoto

In ancient Greece, the city-states that waited until their own harvest was in before attacking and destroying a rival community's crops often experienced better long-term success.

It turns out that ant colonies that show similar selectivity when gathering food yield a similar result. The latest findings from Stanford biology Professor Deborah M. Gordon's long-term study of harvester ants reveal that the colonies that restrain their foraging except in prime conditions also experience improved rates of reproductive success.

Importantly, the study provides the first evidence of natural selection shaping collective behavior, said Gordon, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

A long-held belief in biology has posited that the amount of food an animal acquires can serve as a proxy for its reproductive success. The hummingbirds that drink the most nectar, for example, stand the best chance of surviving to reproduce.

But the math isn't always so straightforward. The harvester ants that Gordon studies in the desert in southeast Arizona, for instance, have to spend water to obtain water: an ant loses water while foraging, and obtains water from the fats in the seeds it eats.

The ants use simple positive feedback interactions to regulate foraging activity. Foragers wait near the opening of the nest, and bump antennae with ants returning with food. The faster outgoing foragers meet ants returning with seeds, the more ants go out to forage. (Last year, Gordon, Katie Dektar, an undergraduate, and Balaji Prabhakar, a professor of computer science and of electrical engineering at Stanford, showed that the ants' "Anternet" algorithm follows the same rules as the protocols that regulate data traffic congestion in the Internet).

Colonies differ, however, in how they use these interactions to regulate foraging. Some colonies are likely to forage less when conditions are dry. These same, more successful colonies are also more likely to forage more steadily when conditions are good.

Gordon found that it's more important for the ants to not waste water than to forage for every last piece of food. There's no survival cost to this strategy, even though the colonies sometimes forgo foraging for an entire day. Instead, not only do the colonies that hunker down on the bad days live just as long as those that go all out, they also have more offspring colonies.

"Natural selection is not favoring the behavior that sends out the most ants to get the most food, but instead regulating foraging to hold back when conditions are bad," Gordon said. "This is natural selection shaping a collective behavior exhibited by the entire colony."

Gordon's group is still investigating how the ants gauge humidity, but they have determined that the collective response of the colony to conditions is heritable from parent colony to offspring colony. Even though a daughter queen will establish her new colony so far from the parent colony that the two colonies will never interact, the offspring colonies resemble parent colonies in their sensitivity to conditions.

Although the foraging activity of the offspring colonies and the parent colony didn't entirely match up on all days, they were similar on extreme days: parent and offspring colonies made similar judgments about when to lie low or take advantage of ideal conditions.

While the region has experienced 10 to 15 years of protracted drought, and the more restrained colonies will most likely fare better reproductively as that trend continues, Gordon can't yet say whether the emphasis on sustainability evolved in response to climate change pressures.

"What's evolving here are simple rules for how ants participate in a network that regulates the collective behavior of the colony," she said.

The work is published in the May 16 issue of the journal Nature.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stanford University. The original article was written by Bjorn Carey. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Deborah M. Gordon. The rewards of restraint in the collective regulation of foraging by harvester ant colonies. Nature, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nature12137

Cite This Page:

Stanford University. "Evolution shapes new rules for ant behavior, research finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515131602.htm>.
Stanford University. (2013, May 15). Evolution shapes new rules for ant behavior, research finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515131602.htm
Stanford University. "Evolution shapes new rules for ant behavior, research finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515131602.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

AFP (July 30, 2014) Pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the worsening Ebola health crisis, which has so far caused 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Duration: 00:43 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

AP (July 30, 2014) At least 20 New Jersey residents have tested positive for chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that has spread through the Caribbean. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Xtreme Eating: Your Daily Caloric Intake All On One Plate

Xtreme Eating: Your Daily Caloric Intake All On One Plate

Newsy (July 30, 2014) The Center for Science in the Public Interest released its 2014 list of single meals with whopping calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins