Should I stay or should I go now? Patch use by African army ant colonies in relation to food availability and predation uri icon

abstract

  • Army ant colonies do not have permanent nests but frequently move to new patches. Local food depletion is considered the ultimate cause of this nomadic behaviour, but the proximate causes are not well understood. We tested if and how patch departure time of the aboveground-hunting army ant Dorylus molestus under field conditions is influenced by food availability and nest attacks by predators. In the first food supplement experiment, colonies receiving additional food throughout an entire nest stay did not reside in their nests for longer periods than control colonies. However, the distances travelled by colonies after nest stays during which colonies obtained food were shorter than those before these nest stays, indicating that colonies do assess food availability and avoid moving too far away from patches of high food availability. In the second food supplement experiment, in which colonies were given even larger amounts of food in the second half of their nest stay to mimic a rich unpredictable food source that these highly polyphagous predators are likely to encounter sometimes, patch departure times likewise did not differ between treated and control colonies. Either patch departure time is independent of food availability or there is another, as yet unappreciated proximate cause of colony movements in this species which we were unable to control for in our field experiments. One possibility is that encounters between neighbouring colonies influence patch departure time. In the experiment on the effect of predation, colonies responded to simulated nest attacks by mammals by leaving nests almost instantaneously and thus much earlier than control colonies. Rapid nest evacuation is likely a response to minimize the probability of repeat attacks by predators which cannot be repelled in other ways. Future studies will be necessary to definitively determine whether food availability influences patch departure times and to elucidate the consequences of colony encounters.

publication date

  • 2011
  • 2011