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Rapid up- and down-regulation of pheromone signalling due to trail crowding in the ant Lasius niger
Social insects often respond to signals and cues from nest-mates, and these responses may include changes in the information they, in turn, transmit. During foraging, Lasius niger deposits a pheromone trail to recruit nestmates, and ants that experience trail crowding deposit pheromone less often. Less studied, however, is the time taken for signalling to revert to baseline levels after conditions have returned to baseline levels. In this paper we study the behaviour of L. niger foragers on a trail in which crowding is simulated by using dummy ants black glass beads coated in nestmate cuticular hydrocarbons. Ants were allowed to make four repeat visits to a feeder with dummy ants, and thus crowding, being present on the trail on all visits (CCCC), none (UUUU) or only the first two (CCUU). If dummy ants were always present (CCCC), pheromone deposition probability was low in the first two visits (54% of ants deposited pheromone) and remained low in visits 3 and 4 (51%). If dummy ants were never present (UUUU) pheromone deposition probability was high in the first two visits (93%) and remained high in visits 3 and 4 (83%). If dummy ants were present on the first two visits but removed on the second two visits (CCUU) pheromone deposition probability was low in the first two visits (61%) but rose in the second two visits (69%). This demonstrates that even after pheromone deposition has been down-regulated due to crowding in the first two visits, it is rapidly up-regulated when crowding is reduced, although it does not immediately return to the base line level.
signal, cue, accuracy, speed, trade-off, cuticular hydrocarbons, social regulation, trail pheromone
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