Diverse societies are more productive: a lesson from ants

Andreas P. Modlmeier, Julia E. Liebmann, Susanne Foitzik


The fitness consequences of animal personalities (also known as behavioural syndromes) have recently been studied in several solitary species. However, the adaptive significance of collective personalities in social insects and especially of behavioural variation among group members remains largely unexplored. Although intracolonial behavioural variation is an important component of division of labour, and as such a key feature for the success of societies, empirical links between behavioural variation and fitness are scarce. We investigated aggression, exploration and brood care behaviour in Temnothorax longispinosus ant colonies. We focused on two distinct aspects: intercolonial variability and its consistency across time and contexts, and intracolonial variability and its influence on productivity. Aggressiveness was consistent over four to five months with a new generation of workers emerging in between trial series. Other behaviours were not consistent over time. Exploration of novel environments responded to the sequence of assays: colonies were faster in discovering when workers previously encountered opponents in aggression experiments. Suites of correlated behaviours (e.g. aggression–exploration syndrome) present in the first series did not persist over time. Finally, colonies with more intracolonial behavioural variation in brood care and exploration of novel objects were more productive under standardized conditions than colonies with less variation.

  • Received November 10, 2011.
  • Accepted January 4, 2012.
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