Individual variation in exploratory behaviour improves speed and accuracy of collective nest selection by Argentine ants

Anim Behav. 2014 Jul 1;93:261-266. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2014.05.006.


Collective behaviours are influenced by the behavioural composition of the group. For example, a collective behaviour may emerge from the average behaviour of the group's constituents, or be driven by a few key individuals that catalyse the behaviour of others in the group. When ant colonies collectively relocate to a new nest site, there is an inherent trade-off between the speed and accuracy of their decision of where to move due to the time it takes to gather information. Thus, variation among workers in exploratory behaviour, which allows gathering information about potential new nest sites, may impact the ability of a colony to move quickly into a suitable new nest. The invasive Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, expands its range locally through the dispersal and establishment of propagules: groups of ants and queens. We examine whether the success of these groups in rapidly finding a suitable nest site is affected by their behavioural composition. We compared nest choice speed and accuracy among groups of all-exploratory, all-nonexploratory and half-exploratory-half-nonexploratory individuals. We show that exploratory individuals improve both the speed and accuracy of collective nest choice, and that exploratory individuals have additive, not synergistic, effects on nest site selection. By integrating an examination of behaviour into the study of invasive species we shed light on the mechanisms that impact the progression of invasion.

Keywords: Linepithema humile; behavioural syndrome; collective behaviour; dispersal; group composition; individual variation; personality; range expansion; relocation.