Ant behavioural maturation is mediated by a stochastic transition between two fundamental states.


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Ant behavioural maturation is mediated by a stochastic transition between two fundamental states.
Current Biology
Richardson T. O., Kay T., Braunschweig R., Journeau O. A., Rüegg M., McGregor S., De Los Rio P., Keller L.
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In Press
The remarkable ecological success of social insects is often attributed to their advanced division of labor, which is closely associated with temporal polyethism in which workers transition between different tasks as they age. Young nurses are typically found deep within the nest where they tend to the queen and the brood, whereas older foragers are found near the entrance and outside the nest.1–3 However, the individ- ual-level maturation dynamics remain poorly understood because following individuals over relevant time- scales is difficult; hence, previous experimental studies used same-age cohort designs.4–15 To address this, we used an automated tracking system to follow >500 individuals over >100 days and constructed net- works of physical contacts to provide a continuous measure of worker social maturity. These analyses re- vealed that most workers occupied one of two steady states, namely a low-maturity nurse state and a high-maturity forager state, with the remaining workers rapidly transitioning between these states. There was considerable variation in the age at transition, and, surprisingly, the transition probability was age inde- pendent. This suggests that the transition is largely stochastic rather than a hard-wired age-dependent phys- iological change. Despite the variation in timing, the transition dynamics were highly stereotyped. Transition- ing workers moved from the nurse to the forager state according to an S-shaped trajectory, and only began foraging after completing the transition. Stochastic switching, which occurs in many other biological sys- tems, may provide ant colonies with robustness to extrinsic perturbations by allowing the colony to decouple its division of labor from its demography.
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15/04/2020 10:56
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28/03/2021 6:36
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