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Internest food sharing within wood ant colonies: resource redistribution behavior in a complex system

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Publication details

JournalBehavioral Ecology
DateE-pub ahead of print - 30 Nov 2015
DatePublished (current) - 1 Jan 2016
Issue number2
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)660-668
Early online date30/11/15
Original languageEnglish


Resource sharing is an important cooperative behavior in many animals. Sharing resources is particularly important in social insect societies, as division of labor often results in most individuals including, importantly, the reproductives, relying on other members of the colony to provide resources. Sharing resources between individuals is therefore fundamental to the success of social insects.
Resource sharing is complicated if a colony inhabits several spatially separated nests, a nesting strategy common in many ant species. Resources must be shared not only between individuals in a single nest but also between nests. We investigated the behaviors facilitating resource redistribution between nests in a dispersed-nesting population of wood ant Formica lugubris. We marked ants, in the field, as they transported resources along the trails between nests of a colony, to investigate how the behavior of individual workers relates to colony-level resource exchange. We found that workers from a particular nest “forage” to other nests in the colony, treating them as food sources. Workers treating other nests as food sources means that simple, pre-existing foraging behaviors are used to move resources through a distributed system. It may be that this simple behavioral mechanism facilitates the evolution of this complex life-history strategy.

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© 2015, The Author. This content is made available by the publisher under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence. This means that a user may copy, distribute and display the resource providing that they give credit. Users must adhere to the terms of the licence.

    Research areas

  • Foraging, wood ants, Behavioral plasticity, Formica lugubris, social organization, polydomy, social network, network analysis, foraging trails, social insects, ants, eusociality

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