Recruitment Strategies and Colony Size in Ants

PLoS One. 2010 Aug 4;5(8):e11664. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011664.

Abstract

Ants use a great variety of recruitment methods to forage for food or find new nests, including tandem running, group recruitment and scent trails. It has been known for some time that there is a loose correlation across many taxa between species-specific mature colony size and recruitment method. Very small colonies tend to use solitary foraging; small to medium sized colonies use tandem running or group recruitment whereas larger colonies use pheromone recruitment trails. Until now, explanations for this correlation have focused on the ants' ecology, such as food resource distribution. However, many species have colonies with a single queen and workforces that grow over several orders of magnitude, and little is known about how a colony's organization, including recruitment methods, may change during its growth. After all, recruitment involves interactions between ants, and hence the size of the colony itself may influence which recruitment method is used--even if the ants' behavioural repertoire remains unchanged. Here we show using mathematical models that the observed correlation can also be explained by recognizing that failure rates in recruitment depend differently on colony size in various recruitment strategies. Our models focus on the build up of recruiter numbers inside colonies and are not based on optimality arguments, such as maximizing food yield. We predict that ant colonies of a certain size should use only one recruitment method (and always the same one) rather than a mix of two or more. These results highlight the importance of the organization of recruitment and how it is affected by colony size. Hence these results should also expand our understanding of ant ecology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pheromones / metabolism
  • Population Density
  • Probability

Substances

  • Pheromones