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Individual experience influences reconstruction of division of labour under colony disturbance in a queenless ant species
Frontiers in Zoology  (IF3.3),  Pub Date : 2022-06-15, DOI: 10.1186/s12983-022-00466-9
Tanaka, Yasunari, Hojo, Masaru K., Shimoji, Hiroyuki

Division of labour (DOL) is ubiquitous across biological hierarchies. In eusocial insects, DOL is often characterized by age-related task allocation, but workers can flexibly change their tasks, allowing for DOL reconstruction in fluctuating environments. Behavioural change driven by individual experience is regarded as a key to understanding this task flexibility. However, experimental evidence for the influence of individual experience is remains sparse. Here we tested the effect of individual experience on task choice in the queenless ponerine ant, Diacamma cf. indicum from Japan. We confirmed that both nurses and foragers shifted to vacant tasks when the colony composition was biased to one or the other. We also found that nurses which are induced to forage readily revert to nursing when reintroduced into balanced colonies. In contrast, foragers which are induced to revert to nursing very rarely return to a foraging role, even 19 days post reintroduction to their original colony. Taken together, our results suggest that individual experience decreases the response threshold of original foragers, as they continue to be specialist nurses in a disturbed colony. However, original nurses do not appear strongly affected by having forager experience and revert to being nurses. Therefore, while individual experience does have an effect, other factors, such as reproductive ability, are clearly required to understand DOL maintenance in fluctuating environments.