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Anim Behav. 2000 Mar;59(3):587-591.

Leaf caching in Atta leafcutting ants: discrete cache formation through positive feedback.

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Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield


We examined the occurrence, mechanism and costs and benefits of leaf caching in laboratory colonies of two species of leafcutting ants, Atta cephalotes and A. colombica. If foragers returning to the nest are unable to enter because of a temporary bottleneck caused by leaves building up they may deposit their leaf pieces outside the nest entrance, forming a leaf cache. Similar leaf caches occur in the field at foraging trail junctions, obstacles on the trail and within nest entrance tunnels. Foraging ants carrying leaves were presented with different-sized leaf caches and the number dropping their leaves on the cache was recorded. The probability of a forager dropping her leaf was positively correlated with the size of the cache that she encountered. Therefore, positive feedback played a role in the formation of nest entrance caches. Cached pieces were more likely to be retrieved than noncached pieces but the time taken to retrieve leaf pieces from a cache was greater than from scattered groups of leaves. We suggest that the strategy of flexible nest entrance caching is an adaptive response to fluctuating food availability and collection.


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