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Am Nat. 2010 Oct;176(4):501-10. doi: 10.1086/656266.

Allometric scaling of metabolism, growth, and activity in whole colonies of the seed-harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus.

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  • 1Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, Arizona State University, Tempe, 85287, USA. james.waters@asu.edu

Abstract

The negative allometric scaling of metabolic rate with body size is among the most striking patterns in biology. We investigated whether this pattern extends to physically independent eusocial systems by measuring the metabolic rates of whole functioning colonies of the seed-harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus. These intraspecific scaling data were compared to the predictions of an additive model developed to estimate collective metabolic rates. Contrary to the prediction of the additive model, colony metabolic rate allometry resembled the pattern commonly observed interspecifically for individual organisms, scaling with colony mass(0.75). Among the same-aged colonies, net growth rate varied by up to sevenfold, with larger colonies exhibiting higher net growth efficiency than smaller colonies. Isolated worker groups exhibited isometric metabolic rate scaling, suggesting that the social environment of the colony is critical to regulating individual patterns of work output. Within the social environment, individual worker locomotor velocities exhibited power-law distributions that scaled with colony size so that larger colonies exhibited a greater disparity between active and inactive ants than did smaller colonies. These results demonstrate that behavioral organization within colonies may have a major influence on colony-level metabolism and in generating intraspecific variation in growth trajectories.

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