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Naturwissenschaften. 2007 Nov;94(11):911-8. Epub 2007 Aug 3.

Why do house-hunting ants recruit in both directions?

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Department of Mathematics, VU University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1081a, 1081 HV, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


To perform tasks, organisms often use multiple procedures. Explaining the breadth of such behavioural repertoires is not always straightforward. During house hunting, colonies of Temnothorax albipennis ants use a range of behaviours to organise their emigrations. In particular, the ants use tandem running to recruit naïve ants to potential nest sites. Initially, they use forward tandem runs (FTRs) in which one leader takes a single follower along the route from the old nest to the new one. Later, they use reverse tandem runs (RTRs) in the opposite direction. Tandem runs are used to teach active ants the route between the nests, so that they can be involved quickly in nest evaluation and subsequent recruitment. When a quorum of decision-makers at the new nest is reached, they switch to carrying nestmates. This is three times faster than tandem running. As a rule, having more FTRs early should thus mean faster emigrations, thereby reducing the colony's vulnerability. So why do ants use RTRs, which are both slow and late? It would seem quicker and simpler for the ants to use more FTRs (and higher quorums) to have enough knowledgeable ants to do all the carrying. In this study, we present the first testable theoretical explanation for the role of RTRs. We set out to find the theoretically fastest emigration strategy for a set of emigration conditions. We conclude that RTRs can have a positive effect on emigration speed if FTRs are limited. In these cases, low quorums together with lots of reverse tandem running give the fastest emigration.

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