The effects of disturbance threat on leaf-cutting ant colonies: a laboratory study

Norman, V C, Pamminger, T and Hughes, W O H (2017) The effects of disturbance threat on leaf-cutting ant colonies: a laboratory study. Insectes Sociaux, 64 (1). pp. 75-85. ISSN 0020-1812

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Abstract

The flexibility of organisms to respond plastically to their environment is fundamental to their fitness and evolutionary success. Social insects provide some of the most impressive examples of plasticity, with individuals exhibiting behavioural and sometimes morphological adaptations for their specific roles in the colony, such as large soldiers for nest defence. However, with the exception of the honey bee model organism, there has been little investigation of the nature and effects of environmental stimuli thought to instigate alternative phenotypes in social insects. Here we investigate the effect of repeated threat disturbance over a prolonged (17 month) period on both behavioural and morphological phenotypes, using phenotypically plastic leaf-cutting ants (Atta colombica) as a model system. We found a rapid impact of threat disturbance on the behavioural phenotype of individuals within threat-disturbed colonies becoming more aggressive, threat-responsive and phototactic within as little as two weeks. We found no effect of threat disturbance on morphological phenotypes, potentially because constraints such as resource limitation outweighed the benefit for colonies of producing larger individuals. The results suggest that plasticity in behavioural phenotypes can enable insect societies to respond to threats even when constraints prevent alteration of morphological phenotypes.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Biology and Environmental Science
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology
Q Science > QL Zoology > QL0360 Invertebrates
Q Science > QL Zoology > QL0360 Invertebrates > QL0434 Arthropoda > QL0463 Insects
Q Science > QL Zoology > QL0360 Invertebrates > QL0434 Arthropoda > QL0463 Insects > QL0563 Hymenoptera > QL0568.A-Z Systematic divisions. By family, A-Z > QL0568.F7 Formicidae (Ants)
Q Science > QL Zoology > QL0750 Animal behaviour
Depositing User: Victoria Norman
Date Deposited: 07 Sep 2016 11:26
Last Modified: 11 Sep 2017 18:56
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/63178

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Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
DTA - Determining the environmental and genetic basis of phenotypic plasiticity in leaf-cutting antsG1011BBSRC-BIOTECHNOLOGY & BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES RESEARCH COUNCILBB/J011339/1