Tracking Individuals Shows Spatial Fidelity Is a Key Regulator of Ant Social Organization

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Science  18 Apr 2013:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1234316

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Ants live in organized societies with a marked division of labor among workers, but little is known about how this is generated. We use a tracking system to continuously monitor individually tagged workers in six colonies of the ant Camponotus fellah over 41 days. Network analyses of over 9 million interactions revealed three distinct groups that differ in behavioral repertoires. Each group represents a functional behavioral unit with workers moving from one group to the next as they age. The rate of interactions was much higher within than between groups. The precise information on spatial and temporal distribution of all individuals permitted calculation of the expected rates of within- and between-group interactions. These values suggest that the network of interaction within colonies is primarily mediated by age-induced changes in the spatial location of workers.

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