Division of labor and the evolution of task sharing in queen associations of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus

Sara Helms Cahan, Jennifer Fewell

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    22 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Division of labor is a key factor in the ecological success of social groups. Recent work suggests that division of labor can emerge even without specific adaptations for task specialization and that it can appear in incipient social groups as a self-organizational property. We investigated experimentally how selection and self-organization may interact during the evolution of division of labor by examining task performance in groups of normally solitary versus normally social ant queens. We created social pairs of colony-founding queens from two populations of the ant Pogonomyrmex californicus, one in which queens are normally solitary and one in which queens form foundress groups, and observed their behavior during nest excavation. In both populations, one of the two queens usually performed most of the excavation, becoming the excavation specialist. We could predict which queen would become the specialist based on their relative propensities to perform the task in other contexts, consistent with a variance-based model of task specialization. The occurrence of specialization even when group members were not adapted to social life suggests that division of labor may well have been present in incipient queen groups. However, division of labor can result in cost skew among group members, and thus, paradoxically, within-group selection may constrain or even reduce specialization. Consistent with this effect, pairs of normally solitary queens were significantly more asymmetrical in their task performance than normally social pairs, in which both queens nearly always performed the behavior to some degree.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)9-17
    Number of pages9
    JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
    Volume56
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    StatePublished - May 2004

    Fingerprint

    Pogonomyrmex californicus
    polyethism
    Ants
    labor division
    queen insects
    ant
    Task Performance and Analysis
    excavation
    colony founding
    Population
    group selection
    harvester ants
    self organization
    Costs and Cost Analysis
    nest
    Formicidae

    Keywords

    • Division of labor
    • Pogonomyrmex californicus
    • Queen associations
    • Specialization
    • Task sharing

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Animal Science and Zoology
    • Ecology
    • Behavioral Neuroscience

    Cite this

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    abstract = "Division of labor is a key factor in the ecological success of social groups. Recent work suggests that division of labor can emerge even without specific adaptations for task specialization and that it can appear in incipient social groups as a self-organizational property. We investigated experimentally how selection and self-organization may interact during the evolution of division of labor by examining task performance in groups of normally solitary versus normally social ant queens. We created social pairs of colony-founding queens from two populations of the ant Pogonomyrmex californicus, one in which queens are normally solitary and one in which queens form foundress groups, and observed their behavior during nest excavation. In both populations, one of the two queens usually performed most of the excavation, becoming the excavation specialist. We could predict which queen would become the specialist based on their relative propensities to perform the task in other contexts, consistent with a variance-based model of task specialization. The occurrence of specialization even when group members were not adapted to social life suggests that division of labor may well have been present in incipient queen groups. However, division of labor can result in cost skew among group members, and thus, paradoxically, within-group selection may constrain or even reduce specialization. Consistent with this effect, pairs of normally solitary queens were significantly more asymmetrical in their task performance than normally social pairs, in which both queens nearly always performed the behavior to some degree.",
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