Social insect colonies are complex systems in which the interactions of many individuals lead to colony-level collective behaviors such as foraging. However, the emergent properties of collective behaviors may not necessarily be adaptive. Here, we examine symmetry breaking, an emergent pattern exhibited by some social insects that can lead colonies to focus their foraging effort on only one of several available food patches. Symmetry breaking has been reported to occur in several ant species. However, it is not clear whether it arises as an unavoidable epiphenomenon of pheromone recruitment, or whether it is an adaptive behavior that can be controlled through modification of the individual behavior of workers. In this paper, we used a simulation model to test how symmetry breaking is affected by the degree of non-linearity of recruitment, the specific mechanism used by individuals to choose between patches, patch size, and forager number. The model shows that foraging intensity on different trails becomes increasingly asymmetric as the recruitment response of individuals varies from linear to highly non-linear, supporting the predictions of previous work. Surprisingly, we also found that the direction of the relationship between forager number (i.e., colony size) and asymmetry varied depending on the specific details of the decision rule used by individuals. Limiting the size of the resource produced a damping effect on asymmetry, but only at high forager numbers. Variation in the rule used by individual ants to choose trails is a likely mechanism that could cause variation among the foraging behaviors of species, and is a behavior upon which selection could act.
Many ant species are polydomous, forming multiple spatially segregated nests that exchange workers and brood. However, why polydomy occurs is still uncertain. We investigated whether colonies of Crematogaster torosa form new polydomous nests to better exploit temporally stable food resources. Specifically, we tested the effect of food presence or absence and distance on the likelihood that colonies would form a new nest. Because this species also forms little-known structures that house only workers without brood (outstations), we also compared the function of this structure with true nests. Laboratory-reared colonies were connected to a new foraging arena containing potential nest sites with or without food for 4 months. When food was present, most colonies formed polydomous nests nearby and the remainder formed outstations. When food was absent, the behavior of colonies differed significantly, frequently forming outstations but never polydomous nests. Distance had no effect on the type of structure formed, but when food was present, a larger proportion of the workforce moved shorter distances. Workers often fortified the entrances to both structures and used them for storage of dried insect tissue ("jerky"). In an investigation of spatial fidelity, we found that workers on the between-nest trail were associated with the original nest, whereas workers collecting food were more likely to be associated with the new nest or outstation. C. torosa appears to have a flexible colony structure, forming both outstations and polydomous nests. Polydomous nests in this species were associated with foraging and were only formed near food resources. © 2010 Springer-Verlag.
In some group-living organisms, labor is divided among individuals. This allocation to particular tasks is frequently stable and predicted by individual physiology. Social insects are excellent model organisms in which to investigate the interplay between physiology and individual behavior, as division of labor is an important feature within colonies, and individual physiology varies among the highly related individuals of the colony. Previous studies have investigated what factors are important in determining how likely an individual is, compared to nestmates, to perform certain tasks. One such task is foraging. Corpulence (i. e., percent lipid) has been shown to determine foraging propensity in honey bees and ants, with leaner individuals being more likely to be foragers. Is this a general trend across all social insects? Here we report data analyzing the individual physiology, specifically the percent lipid, of worker bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) from whom we also analyze behavioral task data. Bumble bees are also unusual among the social bees in that workers may vary widely in size. Surprisingly we find that, unlike other social insects, percent lipid is not associated with task propensity. Rather, body size closely predicts individual relative lipid stores, with smaller worker bees being allometrically fatter than larger worker bees. © 2011 Springer-Verlag.