Resource Distribution in Ant Colonies

  • Rebecca Hayward

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The distribution of resources is vital to any system or society. This is particularly true of social insect colonies where independent access to resources is not available to all members. Only a fraction of individuals are responsible for obtaining food for the colony from outside the nest. Surprisingly little is known about how this food is subsequently distributed to members inside the nest. The work in this thesis is focused around a set of food distribution experiments conducted using four colonies of the ant Temnothorax albipennis. The study applies a well-used technique in a new way to investigate the distribution of food under two different scenarios: feeding under normal conditions and famine relief feeding after a period of starvation. All ants in each colony are marked and then individually tracked recording every feeding interaction to obtain a complete network of food transmission. This work has shown that all four colonies efficiently relieved the famine within 30 minutes of introducing new food. This process was facilitated by workers abandoning their spatial structure and expanding their space use; feeding multiple recipients from a single donor; and simultaneously spreading stored food and new food. Recruitment of foragers did not play a major role in relieving the famine but foragers were responsible for most of the first round of feeding. The study revealed that not all members received the same amount of food and most ants received food in multiple feeding interactions. The transmission pathways used to distribute the food present an opportunity for harmful substances to spread. The pathways are explored in this context to see whether the colonies might aim to minimize the spread by partitioning the pathways or maximise spread by mixing to promote social immunity. The study reveals behavioural differences between the four colonies which are likely to result from the inherent variation in demographic and geometric properties. These differences highlight the flexibility of ant colonies during problem solving under different conditions.
Date of Award1 Jul 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRichard James (Supervisor)


  • netowrk
  • Temnothorax albipennis
  • spatial
  • trophallaxis
  • social
  • food
  • starvation
  • emergency
  • social insects
  • ant
  • distribution

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