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1 December 2010 Foraging Arena Size and Structural Complexity Affect the Dynamics of Food Distribution in Ant Colonies
Grzegorz Buczkowski, Matthew VanWeelden
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Abstract

Food acquisition by ant colonies is a complex process that starts with acquiring food at the source (i.e., foraging) and culminates with food exchange in or around the nest (i.e., feeding). While ant foraging behavior is relatively well understood, the process of food distribution has received little attention, largely because of the lack of methodology that allows for accurate monitoring of food flow. In this study, we used the odorous house ant, Tapinoma sessile (Say) to investigate the effect of foraging arena size and structural complexity on the rate and the extent of spread of liquid carbohydrate food (sucrose solution) throughout a colony. To track the movement of food, we used protein marking and double-antibody sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, DAS-ELISA. Variation in arena size, in conjunction with different colony sizes, allowed us to test the effect of different worker densities on food distribution. Results demonstrate that both arena size and colony size have a significant effect on the spread of the food and the number of workers receiving food decreased as arena size and colony size increased. When colony size was kept constant and arena size increased, the percentage of workers testing positive for the marker decreased, most likely because of fewer trophallactic interactions resulting from lower worker density. When arena size was kept constant and colony size increased, the percentage of workers testing positive decreased. Nonrandom (clustered) worker dispersion and a limited supply of food may have contributed to this result. Overall, results suggest that food distribution is more complete is smaller colonies regardless of the size of the foraging arena and that colony size, rather than worker density, is the primary factor affecting food distribution. The structural complexity of foraging arenas ranged from simple, two-dimensional space (empty arenas) to complex, three-dimensional space (arenas filled with mulch). The structural complexity of foraging arenas had a significant effect on food distribution and the presence of substrate significantly inhibited the spread of food. Structural complexity of foraging arenas and the resulting worker activity patterns might exert considerable influence on socioecological processes in ants and should be considered in laboratory assays.

© 2010 Entomological Society of America
Grzegorz Buczkowski and Matthew VanWeelden "Foraging Arena Size and Structural Complexity Affect the Dynamics of Food Distribution in Ant Colonies," Environmental Entomology 39(6), 1936-1942, (1 December 2010). https://doi.org/10.1603/EN10148
Received: 9 June 2010; Accepted: 1 September 2010; Published: 1 December 2010
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KEYWORDS
foraging
immunomarking
odorous house ant
protein marking
Tapinoma sessile
trophallaxis
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