FIELD INACTIVITY IN TEMNOTHORAX RUGATULUS

picture of Neil Hillis presenting his/her poster: FIELD INACTIVITY IN TEMNOTHORAX RUGATULUS

Neil Hillis , Daniel Charbonneau, Anna Dornhaus

FIELD INACTIVITY IN TEMNOTHORAX RUGATULUS

Inactivity is a behavior present across social insect species, and the nature of its ecological/evolutionary relevance for these organisms remains mysterious.  The small rock ant Temnothorax rugatulus has been shown in a number of laboratory studies to exhibit high levels of this inactivity.  While a number of hypotheses have been put forward to explain this “lazy” ant behavior, no attempts to characterize or demonstrate the occurrence of inactivity in the field have been made.  To do so, we built semi-artificial stone nests in which we could film ant colonies and approximate natural nest conditions.  With these videos, we quantified inactivity at the colony level, and compared data obtained in the ants' habitat with laboratory data.  Qualitative data suggest that inactivity is present in the field, while analysis of time spent inactive at the colony level will show whether significant differences exist between lab and field conditions.  This evidence may give researchers performing laboratory studies of social insect inactivity increased confidence as to the phenomenon’s ecological/evolutionary significance.  These societies are often regarded as optimized for high efficiency, and so this confidence may be a valuable asset in the future study of such a counter-intuitive trait.

 

This study was made possible by funds from UA Provost's Office as well as an NSF grant through the University of Arizona's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department.

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