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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Aug 7;270(1524):1609-16.

Regulation of ants' foraging to resource productivity.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Biologie Animale et Cellulaire, CP 160/12, Universit√© Libre de Bruxelles, 50 Avenue F. D. Roosevelt, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium. amailleu@ulb.ac.be

Abstract

We investigate the behavioural rule used by ant societies to adjust their foraging response to the honeydew productivity of aphids. When a scout finds a single food source, the decision to lay a recruitment trail is an all-or-none response based on the opportunity for this scout to ingest a desired volume acting as a threshold. Here, we demonstrate, through experimental and theoretical approaches, the generic value of this recruitment rule that remains valid when ants have to forage on multiple small sugar feeders to reach their desired volume. Moreover, our experiments show that when ants decide to recruit nest-mates they lay trail marks of equal intensity, whatever the number of food sources visited. A model based on the 'desired volume' rule of recruitment as well as on experimentally validated parameter values was built to investigate how ant societies adjust their foraging response to the honeydew productivity profile of aphids. Simulations predict that, with such recruiting rules, the percentage of recruiting ants is directly related to the total production of honeydew. Moreover, an optimal number of foragers exists that maximizes the strength of recruitment, this number being linearly related to the total production of honeydew by the aphid colony. The 'desired volume' recruitment rule that should be generic for all ant species is enough to explain how ants optimize trail recruitment and select aphid colonies or other liquid food resources according to their productivity profile.

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