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Spatio-temporal permanence and plasticity of foraging trails in young and mature leaf-cutting ant colonies (Atta spp.)

  • Christian Kost (a1), Evandro Gama de Oliveira (a2), Tobias Aurelius Knoch (a3) and Rainer Wirth (a1)

Abstract

The distribution and formation of foraging trails have largely been neglected as factors explaining harvesting patterns of leaf-cutting ants. We applied fractal analysis, circular, and conventional statistics to published and newly recorded trail maps of seven Atta colonies focusing on three aspects: permanence, spatio-temporal plasticity and colony life stage. In the long term, trail patterns of young and mature Atta colonies revealed that foraging activities were focused on distinct, static sectors that made up only parts of their potentially available foraging range. Within these foraging sectors, trails were typically ephemeral and highly variable in space and time. These ephemeral trails were concentrated around permanent trunk trails in mature and around nest entrances in young colonies. Besides these similarities, the comparison of trail systems between the two life stages indicated that young colonies exploited fewer leaf sources, used smaller and less-complex systems of foraging trails, preferred different life forms as host plants, and switched hosts more often compared with mature colonies. Based on these analyses, we propose a general hypothesis which describes the foraging pattern in Atta as a result of initial foraging experiences, spatio-temporal distribution of suitable host plants, energetic constraints, and other factors such as seasonality and interspecific predation.

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Corresponding author. Email: wirth@rhrk.uni-kl.de

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Spatio-temporal permanence and plasticity of foraging trails in young and mature leaf-cutting ant colonies (Atta spp.)

  • Christian Kost (a1), Evandro Gama de Oliveira (a2), Tobias Aurelius Knoch (a3) and Rainer Wirth (a1)

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