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, 17 (15), 1308-12

Individual Experience Alone Can Generate Lasting Division of Labor in Ants

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Individual Experience Alone Can Generate Lasting Division of Labor in Ants

Fabien Ravary et al. Curr Biol.

Abstract

Division of labor, the specialization of workers on different tasks, largely contributes to the ecological success of social insects [1, 2]. Morphological, genotypic, and age variations among workers, as well as their social interactions, all shape division of labor [1-12]. In addition, individual experience has been suggested to influence workers in their decision to execute a task [13-18], but its potential impact on the organization of insect societies has yet to be demonstrated [19, 20]. Here we show that, all else being equal, ant workers engaged in distinct functions in accordance with their previous experience. When individuals were experimentally led to discover prey at each of their foraging attempts, they showed a high propensity for food exploration. Conversely, foraging activity progressively decreased for individuals who always failed in the same situation. One month later, workers that previously found prey kept on exploring for food, whereas those who always failed specialized in brood care. It thus appears that individual experience can strongly channel the behavioral ontogeny of ants to generate a lasting division of labor. This self-organized task-attribution system, based on an individual learning process, is particularly robust and might play an important role in colony efficiency.

Comment in

  • Evolution of Sociality: You Are What You Learn
    P D'Ettorre. Curr Biol 17 (17), R766-8. PMID 17803928.
    Division of labour is the cornerstone of successful societies. A new study has shown that individual experience can produce long-lasting task specialisation in ants. This …

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