Division of labor increases with colony size in the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus

C. Tate Holbrook, Phillip M. Barden, Jennifer Fewell

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    49 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Size has profound consequences for the structure and function of biological systems, across levels of organization from cells to social groups. As tightly integrated units that vary greatly in size, eusocial insect colonies, in particular, are expected to exhibit social scaling relations. To address the question of how social organization scales with colony size, we quantified task performance in variably sized colonies of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus. We found a positive scaling relationship between colony size and division of labor in 2 different contexts. First, individual workers were more specialized in older, larger colonies. Second, division of labor increased with colony size, independently of colony age. Moreover, the proportional allocation of workers to tasks shifted during colony ontogeny-older, larger colonies performed relatively less brood care-but did not vary with colony size among same-aged colonies. There were no colony-size effects on per capita activity or the distribution of activity across workers. Size-related changes in task performance were correlated with changes in the rate of encounter between nest mates. These results highlight the importance of colony size for the organization of work in insect societies and raise broader questions about the role of size in sociobiology.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)960-966
    Number of pages7
    JournalBehavioral Ecology
    Volume22
    Issue number5
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Sep 2011

    Fingerprint

    Pogonomyrmex californicus
    insect colonies
    polyethism
    labor division
    ant
    organization of work
    brood rearing
    social structure
    ontogeny
    nests
    cells
    harvester ants
    sociobiology
    insect
    size effect

    Keywords

    • biological scaling
    • encounter rate
    • group size
    • social insects
    • task allocation
    • task specialization

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Animal Science and Zoology
    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

    Cite this

    Division of labor increases with colony size in the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus. / Holbrook, C. Tate; Barden, Phillip M.; Fewell, Jennifer.

    In: Behavioral Ecology, Vol. 22, No. 5, 09.2011, p. 960-966.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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