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, 58 (2), 437-442

Undertaking Specialization in the Desert Leaf-Cutter Ant Acromyrmex Versicolor


Undertaking Specialization in the Desert Leaf-Cutter Ant Acromyrmex Versicolor

GE Julian et al. Anim Behav.


We investigated undertaking behaviour in the desert leaf-cutter ant to determine whether colonies show undertaking specialization, how task specialization is regulated and the consequences of specialization on colony performance. Task specialization has been hypothesized to be a result of internal physiological or genetic factors that govern worker behaviour. On the other hand, it has been suggested that task specialization could be a result of spatial structuring of workers allowing only a subset to have the opportunity to perform certain tasks. To test between these two hypotheses, we experimentally introduced dead ants into laboratory colonies with individually marked workers, and recorded all encounters and undertaking behaviours. Workers demonstrated individual specialization, in that some workers removed the dead ant more frequently than expected from encounter rate. Although individual workers differed in their opportunity to perform undertaking, this did not account for the specialization. These results suggest that undertaking specialization is governed by internal differences among workers. In addition, undertaking specialists removed corpses more successfully, and in the largest colony, more quickly, than nonspecialist workers, indicating that internally governed specialization is an important part of overall colony efficiency. Copyright 1999 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

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