Here are some notes on ideas that I had in May 2013 on colony distribution patterns and nestmate discrimination in the Comanche harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex comanche). I have been working on this for a while but am trying to formulate good hypothesis and tests of these hypotheses.
Here are the thoughts:
Nestmate Discrimination Test/Neighborhood Definition?
General Methods: a focal colony interacting with several other colonies which may make up a kind of neighborhood
Colony a (focal colony)
1) control with self (3 – 5 trials each)
field, at nest
2) with other colonies (3 -5 trials each), nearest 5 or 10 colonies
field, at nest
observation in the field and from video
video record and view, check for bias in original observation
identification # for colonies and colony interactions (trials)
identification #/code for each video
list to connect the colony interaction identification # with the video code for the interaction
distance between colonies, GIS locations
colony activity level
1 – few ants on the nest yard: 1 – 5
2 – moderate: 5 – 20
3 – active: 20+
rate? – movement level: slow, moderate, fast?
area containing colonies
density of colonies
# of colonies
possible behavioral sequence
avoid or encounter
encounter – physical contact leads to detection which may end the encounter
or detection may lead to display of aggression
grab antennae, leg; mandible flare; gaster movement
which may lead to an attack/fight
Maybe use SWNP site as a comparison?
Create a model of behavioral decisions – possible inputs (sensory/information)
Effect of NMD on colony spatial pattern?
How might NMD affect colony distribution? Are new/younger colonies more aggressive?
What is the colony distribution pattern?
Can the ants tell near neighbors from far neighbors – do they behave differently, more aggression?
How are ant colonies and populations organized?
How do they respond to one another: individual ants; colonies?
trying to track new colonies and their survival
Where are the colonies established with respect to other colonies?
Is there an “attraction” to areas with established colonies? (conspecific attraction)
or an avoidance – in other parts of the prairie without conspecifics?
Do these concerns operate at different spatial and decision making levels – queen choice?
perhaps depends on spatial scale?
1) conspecific attraction to general area (good habitat) – so tend to construct nest near other colonies, tend to stay close
2) very locally, away from other nests – space requirements, as colony grows, competition for forage?
If so, queens must discern something in flight or upon landing or both – Is there a way to figure this out? Besides tracking queens which only gives general information? > literature: how to discern queen habitat preference?
1) one orientation/preference in flight
2) another one on landing in contact with substrate?
behavioral response switch?
Big Picture: May help us understand how fragmentation affects the persistence of ant populations
So, fragmentation and habitat conversion to human use is known to be problem for many organisms – birds, mammals, plants > relationship to spatial scale?
it may be a problem for insects and ants – or do these smaller organisms operate on such a different spatial scale, that human use has a very different effect?
Why/how does it matter? because ants are nearly ubiquitous in terrestrial habitats and play many significant roles in ecosystems
including as predators and prey and in soil health – processing nutrients, “planting” seeds, turning over soil, facilitating gas and water penetration – better than earthworms since ants are not restricted by soil moisture as earthworms are
Nestmate Discrimination may provide information on how colonies interact
relates to how large are ant populations (how many colonies)
how much space might a population need or use (minimum population size for adequate reproduction)