The decision-making process that determines when an animal should switch between tasks is a fundamental issue in the study of animal behaviour. We investigated, for the first time, such task switching in terms of the dynamics of worker populations in ant colonies. During colony emigration in the ant Leptothorax albipennis, the colony has to carry out the following three tasks: (1) transport of brood and nestmates to the new nest; (2) sorting of the brood into its characteristic pattern; and (3) building the nest wall. At the beginning of the emigration, the stimuli for all three tasks increase simultaneously but the tasks are performed sequentially by populations of workers in the colony. The issue here is how decision making at the colony level is based on the behaviour of individual workers. We used a mathematical model to explore the hypothesis that such colony level task switching is based on tasks competing for workers. The essential feature of this model is that the sequence of tasks performed by an individual worker need not match the sequence of tasks on which the colony concentrates. We base the parameterization of our model on our detailed experimental study of eight emigrations, one for each of eight L. albipennis colonies. We compared our results with earlier work that emphasizes the role of response thresholds in task-related decisions.
|Number of pages||11|
|Publication status||Published - 2002|