Division of labour and seasonality in the ant Leptothorax albipennis: worker corpulence and its influence on behaviour

G B Blanchard, G M Orledge, S E Reynolds, N R Franks

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76 Citations (SciVal)


We address the organization of workers in social insect societies. We distinguish between changes in behavioural role over the nurse to forager role sequence, which may depend on changes in physiology, and potentially more rapid changes of task within role. We investigated the association between role and nutrient status in the ant Leptothorax albipennis. Worker lipid stores were quantified using a new body size-controlled method, and were related to worker behaviour. Worker lipid stores were evenly distributed amongst colony members at the end of winter, splitting rapidly into two distinct modes (replete nurses and lean foragers) in spring. The proportion of lean foragers increased throughout spring and summer, until most colonies contained only workers of this type. Callow workers then eclosed with intermediate lipid stores. We developed a computer vision system that tracks all nest ants to extract detailed behaviour of individuals of known lipid stores. Lipid storage was negatively correlated with a worker's foraging propensity, and with measures of spatial occupation in the nest and of activity. Different colonies showed a similar quantitative correlation between lipid stores and behavioural role, suggesting that lipid stores were not only correlated with the relative organization of individuals within each nest, but may also have influenced their absolute role. We reviewed the literature and found evidence that nutrient status influences role predisposition in social insect workers. We conclude that the distribution of worker roles may be linked to the balance between foraging income and energetic consumption within the colony directly via worker nutrient status. (C) 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)723-738
Number of pages16
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2000


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