Communal nutrition in ants.

School of Biological Sciences and Centre for Mathematical Biology, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.
Current biology: CB (Impact Factor: 10.99). 05/2009; 19(9):740-4. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.03.015
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Studies on nonsocial insects have elucidated the regulatory strategies employed to meet nutritional demands [1-3]. However, how social insects maintain the supply of an appropriate balance of nutrients at both a collective and an individual level remains unknown. Sociality complicates nutritional regulatory strategies [4-6]. First, the food entering a colony is collected by a small number of workers, which need to adjust their harvesting strategy to the demands for nutrients among individuals within the colony [4-7]. Second, because carbohydrates are used by the workers and proteins consumed by the larvae [7-14], nutritional feedbacks emanating from both must exist and be integrated to determine food exploitation by foragers [4-6, 15, 16]. Here, we show that foraging ants can solve nutritional challenges for the colony by making intricate adjustments to their feeding behavior and nutrient processing, acting both as a collective mouth and gut. The amount and balance of nutrients collected and the precision of regulation depend on the presence of larvae in the colony. Ants improved the macronutrient balance of collected foods by extracting carbohydrates and ejecting proteins. Nevertheless, processing excess protein shortened life span--an effect that was greatly ameliorated in the presence of larvae.

  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Abstract One of the central questions in physiological ecology is how energetic constraints affect organismal performance and the dynamics of ecological systems. Social insect colonies integrate the balance of supply and demand across levels of biological ...
    Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 01/2014; 150:99-112. · 1.71 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In a foraging context, social insects make collective decisions from individuals responding to local information. When faced with foods varying in quality, ants are known to be able to select the best food source using pheromone trails. Until now, studies investigating collective decisions have focused on single nutrients, mostly carbohydrates. In the environment, the foods available are a complex mixture and are composed of various nutrients, available in different forms. In this paper, we explore the effect of protein to carbohydrate ratio on ants' ability to detect and choose between foods with different protein characteristics (free amino acids or whole proteins). In a two-choice set up, Argentine ants Linepithema humile were presented with two artificial foods containing either whole protein or amino acids in two different dietary conditions: high protein food or high carbohydrate food. At the collective level, when ants were faced with high carbohydrate foods, they did not show a preference between free amino acids or whole proteins, while a preference for free amino acids emerged when choosing between high protein foods. At the individual level, the probability of feeding was higher for high carbohydrates food and for foods containing free amino acids. Two mathematical models were developed to evaluate the importance of feeding probability in collective food selection. A first model in which a forager deposits pheromone only after feeding, and a second model in which a forager always deposits pheromone, but with greater intensity after feeding. Both models were able to predict free amino acid selection, however the second one was better able to reproduce the experimental results suggesting that modulating trail strength according to feeding probability must be the mechanism explaining amino acid preference at a collective level in Argentine ants.
    Journal of insect physiology 04/2014; · 2.24 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Animals grow and optimize performance when they collect foods in amounts and ratios that best meet their species-specific nutritional requirements. For eusocial organisms like ants, where only a small fraction of the colony members collect food, increasing evidence demonstrates that strong macronutrient regulation occurs at the colony level. Here, we explored regulation of protein and carbohydrate (p:c) intake in the Rasberry crazy ant, Nylanderia sp. nr. puben. We did this using dry artificial foods (14–42% total macronutrient content) having a range of fixed p:c ratios in a series of choice and no-choice laboratory experiments and used worker mortality to gauge colony-level costs associated with active nutrient regulation. Choice experiments revealed that colonies preferred carbohydrate-rich foods and self-selected a diet having a p:c ratio ~1:2. No-choice experiments demonstrated that food p:c ratio only moderately affected worker food collection behavior, likely because colonies regulated the intake of only the non-limiting nutrients. Absolute worker mortality was generally high, but lowest in colonies feeding on the food having a p:c ratio of 1:2 (the p:c ratio ants self-selected in the choice experiment), although mortality was not significantly affected by food p:c ratio. The self-selected p:c ratio in our study is consistent with that observed in other recent ant nutrient regulation studies. Taken together, the results from these combined studies reveal emerging commonalities among ants in macronutrient regulation strategies, and similarities in foraging behaviors and costs associated with macronutrient regulation. Finally, from a methodological perspective, the high mortality observed in our study, when compared with other recent studies, suggests that ant nutrient regulation studies should be conducted using foods having high moisture and total macronutrient content. KeywordsForaging behavior–Nutrient regulation–Diet selection–Invasive species
    Insectes Sociaux 01/2012; 59(1):93-100. · 1.33 Impact Factor

Full-text (2 Sources)

Available from
May 17, 2014